Forza, Matteo: Berrettini First Italian To Reach Wimbledon Singles Final

Matteo Berrettini (photo: Wimbledon video)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, July 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Make no mistake, Sunday will be quite a sports day in London for Italian men. Not only will Italy be playing for the Euro Cup title against England at Wembley, but Matteo Berrettini will try to become the first Italian to win a Wimbledon singles final. Both have been fascinating stories during this year’s Wimbledon Championships fortnight.

On Friday, the seventh-seeded Berrettini became first Italian to reach a Wimbledon final in the tournament’s 144-year history following his 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 semifinal victory over No. 14 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. He’s also the first Italian man in 45 years, since Adriano Panatta won Roland-Garros in 1976, to reach a major final.

The bearded Berrettini, wearing his backwards baseball cap and serving at lightening-fast speeds clocking the radar at nearly 140 miles per hour, has been splendor in the grass throughout the first six rounds and over the British summer season – winning 11 consecutive grass-court matches, including a title at Queen’s Club and six straight at the All England Club. The 25-year-old, Roman will play World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic for the gentlemen’s championship Sunday afternoon on Wimbledon’s famed Centre Court in front of British – and tennis – royalty.

In the day’s opening match, with the roof open, an inspired World No. 9 Berrettini played superbly throughout the duration of his historic victory over Hurkacz in a matchup of first-time Wimbledon semifinalists. The World No. 18 Hurkacz, whose earlier victories over No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev and eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer advanced him to the semifinal round, was trying to become the first Polish man to appear in a Wimbledon final. There will be better days in the future for him, for sure.

That Berrettini rolled to victory on grass in two hours and 36 minutes, flashing a huge smile that beamed throughout the sold-out Centre Court after he achieved his monumental triumph, wasn’t so much a surprise. How he achieved it is what was impressive. It included a run of winning 11 games in a row that began from 3-all in the opening set. After the first hour, the rout was on with the Italian up two sets to none.

Although Hurkacz rallied to win the third set in a tie break that kept the semifinal from being a total washout, Berrettini immediately broke for the sixth time to begin the fourth set and never wavered. The Italian fired 22 aces, with the last one setting up match point at the end, and finished with 60 winners against just 18 unforced errors. He won 86 percent (56 of 65) of his first-serve points and outpointed Hurkacz 127-97 to move into his first major final.

During his on-court interview, Berrettini put into words how much the historic moment meant to him. “I have no words, really, just thanks,” he said. “I need a couple of hours to understand what happened.

“I played a great match. I enjoyed the crowd, my family and whole team are there. I think I never dreamed about this, because it was too much for a dream. I am so happy. … Nothing [to say], grazzie.”

Later in press, Berrettini reflected on his accomplishment. “My first Slam final, I’m just so, so happy for everything,” he said. “My year started in a good way with the finals in ATP Cup. Then, I got injured again. I kind of saw those ghosts again of my body kind of struggling.

“Again, I came back stronger. I think I fully deserve to be here. I want to enjoy like I did today. .I want to enjoy my first final. Whoever’s going to win today, I just appreciate what’s happening. So, I’m very happy.”

Djokovic one win away from record-tying 20th major title

Meanwhile, playing in his 10th Wimbledon semifinal, Djokovic has not lost a grass-court match since 2018. At this Wimbledon fortnight, he’s not lost a set since his first-round win over British wild card Jack Draper. In Friday’s second semifinal, a 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 victory over No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, the Serbian booked a seventh Wimbledon final berth with his 20th straight win on grass. The victory kept alive Djokovic’s hopes of winning a third major trophy this year and a chance at continuing toward a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Coming in, the odds favored Djokovic, who had won 15 of his past 16 Grand Slam semifinals, while Shapovalov was appearing in his first one. However, despite the straight-set outcome, which lasted two hours and 44 minutes, the young Canadian gave Djokovic a good run for his money.

In their first six showdowns, Djokovic owned a perfect 6-0 record against the 22-year-old Shapovalov and against all lefties at majors, he was nearly perfect at 23-1. By all measures, this made Djokovic, 34, the favorite and Shapovalov an underdog.

“I think when you’re at the semifinals of a tournament, there’s not really underdogs, overdogs, whatever you want to call it,” Shapovalov said before Friday’s semifinal. “Obviously, he’s got experience, this and that. … The score is 0-0 and you play the match. It’s tennis. It could go any way. Anything can happen. That’s really my mindset.”

While Shapovalov should have prevailed in the opening set and had his chances in the second, ultimately, he was undone by 36 unforced errors while playing his usual swashbuckling, one-handed high-risk high-reward style. There was also his inability to convert break points as his 1-for-11 numbers showed. In both the second and third sets, at 5-all, Djokovic broke Shapovalov to go ahead 6-5. Each time, he served out the sets. Djokovic’s eighth ace on his first match point opportunity gave him game, set and match. He finished with 33 winners and made just 15 unforced errors, and outpointed Shapovalov 116-104.

“I don’t think that the score line says enough about the performance and about the match,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “[Denis] was serving for the first set and he was probably the better player for most of the second set. He had many chances and I would like to give him a big round of applause for everything he has done today and these two weeks.”

As Shapovalov left Centre Court with his eyes welling with tears, he received a huge ovation. During press, he said: “I think what hurt so much this time was just that I felt like the game is there and it’s possible to go and play for the trophy. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before, so that’s why it just hurt so much.”

The bottom line after Friday’s two semifinal matches? Djokovic’s triumph means he’s still in the chase to win his third consecutive Wimbledon title and to level himself with Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 majors each. Berrettini will definitely be a formidable opponent. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome between these worthy foes, history will be written and celebrated at this year’s gentlemen’s final.

“There is no holding back once you step out on the court, particularly in the later stages of an event that I always dreamed of winning,” Djokovic expressed while soaking up the Centre Court applause. “The dream keeps going. I am trying to take out the maximum of my own abilities every single match and see what happens. Giving up is never an option.”

Three different partners, three titles for Hsieh?

Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei has an excellent shot at winning a third Wimbledon ladies’ doubles title – and with a third different partner. After winning in 2013 with Peng Shuai of China, then with Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic in 2019, this year Hsieh is through to the championship final with Elise Mertens of Belgium.

In Friday’s semifinal round, the No. 3 seeds Hsieh and Mertens defeated Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, seeded fifth, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, in an hour and 44 minutes, to advance to their first major final as a team. It will ensure that Mertens returns to World No. 1 when the WTA doubles rankings are updated on Monday.

The other semifinal featured a pair of unseeded teams, Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina, both from Russia, against Caroline Dolehide of the United States and Storm Sanders of Australia. Kudermetova and Vesnina already had beaten the all-American team of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally as well as Roland-Garros champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who were seeded first at Wimbledon.

Kudermetova and Vesnina fought off Dolehide and Sanders in the final set to win 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5 in two hours and 30 minutes to reach Saturday’s championship match. Down 2-5 in the final set, the Russians saved three match points, en route to turning the match around.

It will be the fourth Wimbledon women’s doubles final for Vesnina, who won the title in 2017 with Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova. She also reached the 2010 final with Vera Zvonareva of Russia and in 2015 with Makarova.

A British invasion of mixed doubles

Great Britain has made an impact in the mixed doubles this fortnight. In one semifinal Friday evening, the unseeded all-British team of Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart beat No. 9 seeds Kevin Krawietz of Germany and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, prevailing on their third match-point opportunity. Meanwhile, No. 7 seeds Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States will take on No. 17 seeds John Peers of Australia and Zhang Shuai of China, in the other semifinal on Saturday.

Around the All England Club

Friday’s Wimbledon results

Saturday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

• Into his first major final, Matteo Berrettini is the eighth Italian – man or woman – to reach a Grand Slam final. Leading the way is Nicola Pietrangeli (4), followed by Francesca Schiavone (2), and Giorgio de Stefani, Sara Errani, Adriano Panatta, Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci all with one.

• With his semifinal victory, Novak Djokovic advanced to his 30th major final, second-most behind Roger Federer’s 31.

• With Matteo Berrettini, Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz all first-time Wimbledon semifinalists, this year presented the most first-time Wimbledon men’s semifinalists since 2006 (Marcos Baghdatis, Jonas Bjorkman and Rafael Nadal).