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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday May 8, 2021

Matteo Berrettini

Matteo Berrettini is playing peak tennis this week in Madrid, and he's one step from a Masters title.

Photo Source: Madrid Open/ Mteo Vilalba

Matteo Berrettini started 2021 in incredible form. He blasted past Dominic Thiem and Gael Monfils in decisive fashion at the ATP Cup, and was into the second week of the Australian Open relishing a battle with Stefanos Tsitsipas when things went decidedly south.

Tennis Express

An Injury Knocked Him Out

Berrettini was a victim of the injury bug and would pull out of Australia with an abdominal injury. By the time he returned to the tour, after plenty of rehab and a lot of frustration, he had lost his momentum and played at Monte-Carlo lacking confidence in his game and in his ability to stay healthy.

“It's crazy because after three days that I got injured, I could do a crunch with my abs, but I couldn't turn,” Berrettini explained. “When I was getting in the car, when I took the flight, I was struggling. I was feeling it. When I was sneezing, I was feeling it.”

Berrettini says the injury was still taking a toll a month later.

After three or four weeks, I could hit the ball,” he told reporters, adding that he was still far from his peak at that point. “After I was really tired. My ab was hurting. I was feeling tired pretty quickly. I couldn't serve for a long time. Even in Miami, I wasn't serving 100 percent. That's why I didn't play. It was really tricky, but at the same time mentally it was a great work, a great effort. Now I guess it's why I'm feeling good now.”

Now in Madrid, Berrettini has caught fire, perhaps like never before. He’s fresh off the Belgrade title, where he defeated Aslan Karatsev in the final, and now riding an eight-match winning streak after his 6-4 6-4 victory over Casper Ruud to reach his first Masters 1000 final in Madrid, where he will face Alexander Zverev for the title on Sunday.

He isn’t just hitting the ball well, he’s also putting forth an undeniable energy. He’s switched on. Energized. Just dying to dive in and make the most of his opportunities.

"Every match is a fight,” he said earlier in the week. “I'm really putting a lot of effort to be able to be mentally ready.”

The Italian’s success might actually be related to the injury. Forced to lay low after he was hurt, Berrettini has since developed an appreciation for his health and for the pure joy his physical tennis gives him. He is playing like a man possessed at the moment, and he’s not taking anything for granted.

He may have felt sorry for himself after the injury, but not any longer.

“I'm really proud that I came from not an easy place mentally after my injury,” he said. “The first match after my injury was really bad in a way, not for the loss but the way I lost it. I really worked hard. There were days where I wasn't really feeling into practice because I felt like kind of there was a lot of work to be done. Sometimes I was feeling kind of unlucky that I got injured again. It was just tough. But then I came back stronger in Belgrade. For here, I proved to myself that I'm strong inside.”

Too Much Game for Ruud

On Saturday Berrettini became the first player to break the serve of Norway’s Casper Ruud, en route to his 6-4 6-4 victory. There weren’t a ton of chances, but Berrettini was able to take advantage of the ones he earned. He broke twice on three opportunities and won 14 of 28 second-serve points.

“I think my return today was really a high level,” he said. “We play each other already this is the fourth time, so I kind of know him like in the same way I think he knows me. I didn't expect this performance. You step in the court and you say, ‘Okay, I know I can return,’but then you don't know how well you're going to do that. The key I think today was, like, putting pressure on his serve, first serve and second serve. I was always trying to get the momentum and attacking even his first serve. I know that he likes to have time, run around the forehand. I tried to do that. It work out pretty well. I'm happy for that.”

Zverev in the Final

Berrettini will bid to become the ATP’s third first-time Masters 1000 this season, following Hubert Hurkacz and Stefanos Tsitsipas, when he meets Zverev in Sunday’s final.

The Italian owns a 1-2 lifetime edge against Zverev, and the pair have split their two meetings on clay. It’s a difficult challenge to face a former Madrid (2018) champion and a three-time Masters 1000 titlist, but the Italian believes he will have his chances.

“The times that we played each other in Rome, obviously they were different conditions, I remember in Shanghai I think the roof was closed, the court was very fast, and obviously in Rome it was different,” he said. “Yeah, tomorrow I think it's kind of the same. I saw him, he's playing really good. He's solid. He moves well. For his height, he's really good. He serves well. I mean, he's in the final. He beat Rafa and Dominic, probably the best players on clay. It's going to be a challenge match, but I'm in the finals. I guess the best two guys are going to play each other.”


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