PARIS (Reuters) – No Italian man has won a singles Grand Slam title in 44 years, but Matteo Berrettini is now leading the charge to become the country’s successor to Adriano Panatta, the 1976 French Open champion.
Seventh seed Berrettini was barely bothered as he cantered into the second round of Roland Garros with a 6-3 6-1 6-3 victory against Canadian Vasek Pospisil, becoming the fifth Italian to advance in Paris.
He was preceded by teenager Jannik Sinner, hailed by John McEnroe as a future great, with qualifiers Lorenzo Giustino and Marco Cecchinato, a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2018, as well as Stefano Travaglia, also reaching round two.
Berrettini, a semi-finalist at the Shanghai Masters and the U.S. Open last year, believes the density of Italian players – eight in the top 100 – at the high level is key to their progress.
“There isn’t a main reason,” Berrettini told a news conference.
“Obviously you have to have the guys that are good enough to play this kind of tennis at this level. And at the same time it’s a consequence I think of what happened two years ago with Marco a little bit, what the federation did for the younger ones like me, Lorenzo Musetti, and Sinner.
“I’m really happy for the Italian crowd. Once one player is losing, they have five or six to follow. It’s really good for the moment.”
At 24, Berrettini is already feeling he is part of the old guard of Italian tennis, with the 19-year-old Sinner – winner of the NextGen ATP finals – and the 18-year-old Musetti already making their breakthroughs.
“It’s really good for myself because it push me to achieve more and more. That’s one of the main things,” added world number eight Berrettini.
“We are helping each other. One week one is winning, the other week the other one is winning. We want to push each other for the best.”
Italian players have also been benefiting from a high number of Challengers – second tier – tournaments being organised in the country, meaning they have the tools to improve at home.
“I know there are a lot of Challengers. The federation guarantees wild cards for the younger ones,” said Berrettini.
“You don’t have to travel too much. You can be in Italy, in Europe, and it’s a big thing. I mean, you’re going to get less tired.”
Finally, Italian men can always look to their female counterparts for inspiration, 10 years after Francesca Schiavone lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.
“It was really impressive, was a really great period that we had some years ago with her, with Flavia (Panetta), with Sara (Errani), with Roberta (Vinci). I think we had a great period for the girls,” said Berrettini.
“Now we hope to have the same period with the guys.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)