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'I'm still learning from them': Berrettini relishes lessons from legends

  • Alex Sharp

From growing up watching Rafael Nadal in Grand Slam finals on TV, to locker room chats, to facing one of the greatest of all time over the net. 
Matteo Berrettini is edging closer and closer to major glory, but knows he must replicate mental and physical attributes from the 20-time Grand Slam champion's armoury to make that extra step.

MORE: Men's singles results AO 2022
It was a learning curve on Friday night as Nadal fended off a comeback from the Italian 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 to book his sixth Australian Open final.

"For me, it (tonight) was an explanation since the really first time that I saw him, for the way he is in the court, the way he behaves, and his attitude," said Berrettini.  "We chatted a little bit in the locker room. He told me that was a great run, and I told him again, Bravo.

"It's just really nice for me to have this kind of conversation, because I'm still learning from them." 
The past year has seen the 25-year-old establish himself as a true top 10 talent. Since the start of 2020, in five majors, only world No.1 Novak Djokovic (three times) and Nadal have halted his Grand Slam success.

"Makes me feel that maybe it's time to beat them," chuckled the seventh seed.

"I know that my level I think is getting higher and higher. I think here for the third and the fourth, my tennis level was really high.

"I'm not saying that he was struggling, but he had to play his best tennis to be with me, and this is what the great champions they do. When you're stepping up the level, they are there with you.

"I'm proud of what I have done. But I guess in a way it's good that I still have room for improvement.

"I can learn from these matches, and next time I want to be ready for them."

It wasn't Berrettini's day, but he gave it a red-hot crack in the third set

Back at the same stage of the 2019 US Open, Nadal advanced to the final in straight sets and it appeared to be a similar story on Friday as the world No.5 popped a bottle of vintage Nadal to soar two sets ahead. 

Berrettini gritted his teeth and stormed back into contention with a highlight reel forehand around the net post to help secure the pivotal break in the third set. 
The Italian muscled through 22 consecutive points on his searing serve until 3-3 in the fourth set. Berrettini was then forced to fend off break point, outlasting Nadal in a lung-bursting 23-shot rally.

But the 2009 champion wouldn't be denied, Berrettini was left ruing what could have been, the 25-year-old still seeking his first Grand Slam victory against a top 10 player, going 0-7 now. 
Berrettini, a Wimbledon finalist last July, is seeking the warrior mode, the mentality of the greats like Nadal. 
"The first two sets weren't what I expected, what I wanted from myself. I wouldn't say flat, but I wasn't in the right mood, in the right mental mindset and for so many reasons," said Berrettini.

"But the fact is that I was just like that, and it was good that I had a really big and good reaction. This is the thing that I'm most proud and happy about.
"But you cannot be in the court like this for the first two sets against a player like Rafa. For sure the attitude in the first two, it wasn't good enough. I think that the score proved it.

"I learned that you have to be ready any time, and I'm learning this every day since I started playing tennis. It's a sport that you have to be able to adapt to everything that is happening."

Berrettini has now reached the quarterfinals at all four Grand Slams, earning praise from his conqueror.

"Final of Wimbledon last year, semifinals here, young, every year he's playing better and better. Is a very charismatic player on tour," stated Nadal. "Good guy. So, I wish him all the very best and I think he has a great future in front of him." 
If Nadal predicts a bright future, then you know you're on the right path.