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'Getting closer': Berrettini builds blocks in search of big title

  • Dan Imhoff

Signs of a changing of the guard in Italian men's ranks had been brewing for three years before Matteo Berrettini had Fabio Fognini's number in Madrid last May.

Such was the affable Roman's respect for his long-time flag-bearer, he chose not to dwell on the result.

MORE: AO 2022 men's singles draw

It was more a chance to highlight the broader progress Berrettini had made since he first came to the public's attention in a fourth-round Centre Court defeat to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2019.

"I always say that when you don't see room for improvement, then it would be like a bad day," Berrettini said after his defeat of Fognini. 

"I mean, I like to work every day to get better, and the day that I'm gonna see there is no room, then I will probably change something."

Berrettini's fifth AO main draw appearance has been his most convincing yet

That Wimbledon outing against his idol Federer lasted a mere 74 minutes, and prompted Berrettini's self-deprecating words for the Swiss at net.

"Thanks for the tennis lesson, how much do I owe you?" he joked.

It was a telling insight from a man always willing to learn.

Inroads made by Berrettini in recent seasons had been vast, culminating in a run to a maiden Masters 1000 final in Madrid and his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last year.

That run ended at the hands of Novak Djokovic, his tormentor at three straight majors in 2021.

Berrettini lost last year's Wimbledon final, but found new belief

The Italian was now 21-0 from his past 21 Grand Slam clashes against all opponents other than the world No.1, with his last defeat from the rest of the pack coming against Daniel Altmaier in the third round of Roland Garros 2020. 

"I grew up watching these guys battling and fighting for the big titles," Berrettini said following the Wimbledon final. 

"Now I'm the guy that is trying to take the titles away from them. 

"US Open I lost against Rafa (Nadal), and he won the title. Like I said in Paris, quarters against Novak. It means that I'm there. It means that I deserve to be here. I feel it … I'm getting closer. Every match that I'm playing against them helps me to get closer."

Victory over Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last Sunday meant Berrettini had reached the quarterfinals or better at the past four majors – the first man born in the 1990s to achieve the feat.

Berrettini has been ever-present at the sharp end of the Slams

Five-set victories over teen phenomenon Carlos Alcaraz in the third round and Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals had Berrettini right at home on Rod Laver Arena, and firmly in the public's eye again ahead of his showdown with Nadal.

While yet to defeat a top-10 opponent at a major, a first against the 20-time major champion Nadal on Friday would be his most telling statement yet. 

"I think before my first semis in US Open (in 2019), I didn't really think that I could have done so much," Berrettini said.

"Not because I didn't believe, just because I came from a mentality that I took every step, you know, day by day and I was never the guy, and even now, never the guy saying, 'OK, now I'm going to turn pro, I'm going to try to win a Slam'. 

"I was never like that. So even when I played the fourth round in Wimby and I got killed by Roger, I was happy for my result but when I got there I was trying for more.  

"I was, like, 'OK, now I want to do more'. Then when I made semis the first time, I was thinking, 'OK, I want to do it again'.  

"I want to try to go further."