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Five to survive: Berrettini into maiden Melbourne semi

  • Alex Sharp

Matteo Berrettini has become the first Italian man to reach the Australian Open semifinals, the seventh seed recording a pulsating 6-4 6-4 3-6 3-6 6-2 victory over world No.20 Gael Monfils on Tuesday night.  

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Berrettini played like a man on a mission before the French showman threatened an immense comeback, but eventually booked a clash with 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. 

MORE: AO 2022 men's singles draw
Berrettini's only previous meeting with the Spaniard was a straight-sets loss in the 2019 US Open final four, having also ousted Monfils in the last eight in New York that autumn. 

"That was the only time I've played Rafa and was a really tough match for me," said Berrettini. 
"He won the tournament afterwards. Was my first semifinals. I didn't really know what to expect and even though the first set I had set points, so I'm pretty sure it's gonna be a great fight.  
"He played five sets as well today. So he needs to rest as well." 

Berrettini was dialled in from the very beginning against Monfils, opening up a 4-2 lead with his dynamite shots.  
In the next game, the Italian talisman prevailed in a rally of the highest order, knifing the backhand slice and evoking plenty of touch and feel off recovery shots, which culminated in a short forehand cross-court winner with just the flick of the wrist. 
Monfils, back in the Melbourne quarterfinals for the first time since 2016, claimed his first break-back point at 5-4 with a bullseye backhand pass struck out wide at full stretch. But with one booming ace following another, Berrettini escaped with the opening set. 

Berrettini's serve was on target late in the opening set

The Frenchman was electrifying the crowd, sliding from shot to shot like a teenager, not a 35-year-old. At 1-2 down, Berrettini was being pressed by the world No.20, tossing in a serve and volley for a sneaky change-up, but Monfils managed to bring up a couple of break points. 
Some 20 minutes and 10 deuces later, Berrettini roared "vamos" in pure relief, his searing serve and resolute defence snuffed out the danger.  

The 2021 Wimbledon finalist turned the screw, capitalising upon a loose game from Monfils to cement his advantage with a 4-3 break.  
Berrettini's clothing brand prints "Boss" across his chest, and the 25-year-old was certainly bossing it.  
Not so fast, 'La Monf' had his say. 
Monfils, rejuvenated in 2022 and a recent champion in Adelaide, was rewarded for saving three break points to inch 2-1 ahead. The Frenchman missiled an inside-out forehand winner but then fell to his knees having wasted a chance off a second serve. The crowd lifted him, and Monfils stole his first break of the clash. 
Another firecracker forehand, his 11th winner of the set, and Monfils had halved his deficit, eliciting more applause from the stands.  
Monfils was going from strength to strength, holding nothing back with some exemplary point construction. Two monstrous forehands later, and the Frenchman was mounting his comeback challenge in style.  

Monfils ramped up his aggression to send the match to a deciding set

Their 2019 US Open quarterfinal went the distance to a match tiebreak, and Monfils motored through three successive games to send Rod Laver Arena rumbling.  
Berrettini wouldn't blink, embracing the task of the fifth set head-on, stepping in and blazing 4-0 up. Two match points went begging at 5-2 before a last Monfils shot rippled the net.  

"It feels unbelievable. And hopefully tomorrow is gonna be a second one," added Berrettini, beating his chest, with countryman Jannik Sinner in action against world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas. 
"I'm really happy for myself, was another great fight again against Gael. Great match, a lot of emotions. I thought I had him in the third (set) and then I found myself in a fifth, but I really fought hard and I put everything in the court. That's what I said to myself, and that's why I'm really happy.
"I'm really good friends with Jannick. I'm friends with Stefanos. I wish them best of luck, but I'm gonna watch for sure."