MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Open quarter-finalist Matteo Berrettini can trace the critical period that helped him become a formidable player on all surfaces to a stirring pre-season in 2019.
The seventh seed, who will play Gael Monfils on Tuesday at Melbourne Park, is the first Italian man to reach the last eight at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
After defeating Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta on Sunday, the 25-year-old said it is an achievement he is particularly proud of given the doubts he had as a youngster.
“It makes me feel good. I didn’t know about this,” he said. “It means that I’m doing great stuff, which I never believed I could do when I was younger.”
A Wimbledon finalist last year, the right-hander grew up believing his best performances would come on clay, but he has proven himself more than adept on hard courts and grass.
Berrettini broke into the top 100 in 2018 and also claimed his maiden ATP Tour title that season when successful on clay in Gstaad.
But a period spent training on a slick hard court leading into the Australian summer in 2019 convinced him that he was capable of excelling on faster surfaces as well.
Branded “The Hammer” by Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open last year, his first breakthrough at major level came in New York when he reached the semi-finals in 2019.
Injury stymied his progress through 2020 in a testing season for all players due to the pandemic.
But he has now reached quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the U.S. and Australian Opens, as well as the Wimbledon final, in his last four appearances in a Grand Slam tournament.
“It is crazy because the first time I played on grass, on the Tour, was in 2018 and I absolutely hated it. I was telling my coach that I don’t have time to play like I want to play,” he told Reuters.
“I grew up on clay and it was not the best feeling that I had. Then, in 2019, something switched. We did a pre-season on a really fast hard court, so then I adjusted my game a little bit more.
“At the end of the day, I think I am really happy, because I feel I can play on grass, on hard and on clay at … the same level. This is really important for the ranking and the fact that you can go anywhere and think that you can do well.”
After edging Carlos Alcaraz in a five-set thriller on Friday, Berrettini was too good for another Spaniard, Carreno-Busta, on Sunday when he won 7-5 7-6(4) 6-4.
The Italian has won both previous encounters against Monfils, including a five-setter in a U.S. Open quarter-final in 2019.
“I have good memories (of) when I played him last time in a quarter-final in a Slam, so hopefully it’s going to be a good one too,” he said.
(Reporting by Courtney Walsh; Editing by Peter Rutherford)