NEW YORK, September 5, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, and Spanish three-time US Open champion Rafael Nadal will play each other for the first time in their career on Friday. The duo will clash in the bottom half of the men’s semi-final at Flushing Meadows.
The 24th-seeded Berrettini defeated France’s Gael Monfils in their quarter-final, played in the day session on Wednesday, in a five-set joust. The 23-year-old went on to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5), three minutes short of four hours of play. The match swerved through both players but it was Berrettini who held himself with composure unlike his much-experienced rival. Monfils’ gumption which has been one of the USPs of the 33-year-old showed itself in the fourth set as he took the match to the deciding fifth.
The Rome native went up a break in the fifth set and even brought up match point – the first of what would eventually be five – at 40-30, 5-3 in the set. But an ill-timed double fault put paid to his hopes of a win in regulation time. At 6-5, with Monfils’ serving, Berrettini had two more match points come and go. In the tie-break, Berrettini had match points on Monfils’ serve while leading 6-4. Monfils saved the first but Berrettini took the win on his terms on his serve, before dropping to the ground in exultation.
“I was saying to myself during the match, ‘What do you expect for, I mean, you’re 23. Just playing your first [Slam] quarterfinal and you expect that you not get tight?’ So, I was saying to myself, ‘Okay, that’s normal. Keep going. You know you’re going to have more chances.’ That’s the thing that I’m most proud of, you know. That’s what I learned,” Berrettini said after his win.
This is the only second time in his career Berrettini has reached the semi-final of a tournament on hard courts. His first semi-final on the surface came earlier this year at the Bulgaria Open in Sofia. The Italian also joined Corrado Barazzutti as the second Italian male – after 1977 – to reach the US Open semi-final. He is also the fourth male player from his country to reach the semi-finals of a Major. The other men are Barazzutti, who also reached the 1978 French Open semis; Adriano Panatta, who reached the French Open semi-finals thrice in 1973 and 1975, before winning the title in 1976; and Marco Cecchinato, who advanced to the 2018 Roland Garros semi-finals.
Nadal Marches On
World No. 2 Nadal shrugged off cramps and humidity to defeat Argentina’s spirited Diego Schwartzman in their last-eight match. The Mallorcan won 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours and 46 minutes.
Except for the final set which was one-sided as the score showed, the first two sets were not entirely straightforward. The 18-time Slam champion led by two breaks of serve each across the first two sets. However, errors popped out of his racquet allowing his lead to slip. Despite these stumbles, Schwartzman was not able to push Nadal off his perch giving the 33-year-old to stake the win in straight sets. Nadal ended the match with 100 points, 17 more than the Buenos Aires’ resident’s 83.
Alongside winning higher margin of points off first and second serves (70 per cent to 68 per cent, and 50 per cent to 46 per cent respectively), the key for the Manacor native’s success on the day was his net game. He came to the net 21 points and won 15 times for a margin of 71 per cent. In comparison, Schwartzman approached the net 22 times but was only able to win eight points for a below-average 36 per cent.
After the match, Nadal, who had to call for the trainer to check his left arm, shared, “Physically I am fine. Today was a very heavy day. Big humidity. I am this kind of player where I sweat a bit. Sometimes under these conditions it’s tough, but honestly, I am happy that I had some critical moments at the end of the second and the beginning of the third.”
Continuing, he added, “I am super happy in the way that I accepted the situation. I accepted the challenge and just kept going, point by point. Here I am, in semi-finals, and that’s super important for me. It means everything.”
This is Nadal’s eighth semi-final at the US Open, and his 33rd semi-final overall at the Majors. His gutsiness led his 26-year-old opponent to remark that he was, “Like a lion in the jungle.”