At first glance, it would seem Matteo Berrettini is humming along comfortably in 2022.
He has a winning percentage of 73, has won two ATP titles from three finals, and beat former world No.1 Andy Murray at the US Open on Friday to reach the fourth round – his seventh consecutive appearance in the second week of a major.
Berrettini next faces world No.39 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, where a win would send him through to a third quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows from his last four visits.
But if one was to dig a little deeper, they would realise this season has been anything but smooth for the big-hitting Italian.
It started brilliantly, when he powered into the Australian Open semifinals. But not long after Indian Wells, he was forced off tour due to a hand injury that required surgery.
It meant he missed the entire clay-court swing, including Roland Garros, with Berrettini explaining: “My team and I have made the decision that going straight back into five-set matches on clay at Roland Garros would not be sensible, therefore I will delay my comeback to compete in the full grass season.”
Missing one Slam could perhaps be considered acceptable, given he returned with a vengeance on grass with back-to-back titles in Stuttgart and Queen’s, and would arrive at the All England Club with the memories of reaching the previous year’s final.
Except he contracted COVID, and was forced to skip Wimbledon, too. It left him heartbroken.
And when he lost back-to-back first-round matches in Canada and Cincinnati leading into the US Open, there was a niggling thought that perhaps it was simply not meant to be for him at this year’s majors.
“I think that kind of thought is the one that kind of brought me here to the forefront,” Berrettini explained after his 6-4 6-4 6-7(1) 6-3 win over Murray at Arthur Ashe Stadium, his third straight against the Brit.
“When I have that kind of fear, I always play my best tennis. I always said it: it's a tricky thought that I have … but if you don't have fear for something, if you're not tight, I don't think you're going to give your best.
“Unfortunately this tournament came with not a lot of confidence for one reason or another. Mostly for injuries.
“I always wanted to play good here. Especially in the slams. In this year, I didn't have a lot of confidence, I didn't have a lot of matches. But I had a lot of will (to play) good, and I'm in the fourth round again.
“Still not done yet, but happy for what is happening.”
If ever Berrettini’s luck was going to go his way again, it was here in New York City.
Three years ago he enjoyed a breakout run to the semifinals, and ever since he has been a relatively reliable force at the Grand Slams, going on to reach at least the quarterfinal stage of all four.
And while 2022 has been a frustrating campaign in many ways, when healthy, he has enjoyed success, including winning 15 of his past 18 matches.
He may have fallen from a peak of world No.6 – which he hit after that AO run in January – to his current position of 14th, but another strong run at the US Open would certainly set him off again in the right direction.
“I feel that I'm happy and I feel that I like to play in New York. This is special tournament for me. I think three years ago when I played semis, it was kind of like the turning point of my career,” he said.
“So I always have good memories, especially in the court that I played today.
“I'm really happy to be through again.”