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Match of the Day: Berrettini breaks Khachanov 

Ninth seed Matteo Berrettini battled through an abdominal injury and made it through to the Australian Open fourth round for the first time in his career with a hard-fought 7-6(1) 7-6(5) 7-6(5) success over Russia’s Karen Khachanov on Saturday.

MORE: All the scores from Day 6 at AO 2021

The 24-year-old from Rome is the sixth Italian man in the Open Era to make it to the last 16 of the Australian Open, and next faces Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Mikael Ymer earlier on Saturday.

The build-up

Berrettini entered the clash with a clean 3-0 head-to-head record lead over the 19th-seeded Khachanov, with all three of their previous meetings coming in 2019.

Both players showed decent form in the build-up, with Berrettini going 3-1 in singles to guide Italy to the ATP Cup final, after making the quarterfinals in Antalya. Khachanov made the semifinals of the Great Ocean Road Open last week, where he fell in a final-set tiebreak to eventual champion Jannik Sinner.

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13 Feb 21

Karen Khachanov vs Matteo Berrettini Match Highlights (3R) | Australian Open 2021

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Berrettini is a former US Open semifinalist, but had never made it past the second round at Melbourne Park prior to this fortnight. Khachanov was searching for a maiden fourth-round showing here as well, with his sole Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance coming at Roland Garros in 2019.

They’re the same age and sport a similar playing style that relies on their big serves and heavy forehands.

Story of the match

Four of the first five games of the match went against serve, with Berrettini breaking first before Khachanov carved a 3-1 gap. The Russian’s advantage didn’t last long though, and the pair were back on serve at 3-3. A see-saw set like that deserved a tiebreak, and that’s what it got. Berrettini sped to a 4-0 opening in the breaker and never looked back, securing the first set on the 52-minute mark.

Neither player faced a break point in the second set, which also went Berrettini’s way in a tiebreak.

Khachanov was in trouble in his first service game of the third installment, but dug deep to swat away two break points and hold. He got his first chances of the set on Berrettini’s serve in game six but was unable to convert, getting unlucky on a well-flicked passing shot attempt that hit the net cord and sailed wide, leaving the Russian speechless.

Berrettini was spotted grimacing after hitting a forehand and took a medical timeout to receive treatment for an abdominal issue during the changeover at 5-4. 

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Berrettini was able to rally after his medical timeout deep into the third set

The ninth seed still looked uncomfortable upon resumption of play but managed to level the set and had a break point the next game, which Khachanov saved with a ridiculous volley.

Berrettini let out a roar of frustration as he fell behind 1-4 in the tiebreak but clawed his way back to level for 5-5. He was gifted a match point on a netted forehand from Khachanov, and gave out a huge sigh of relief when the Russian hit his 38th unforced error of the match to crash out.

“I don’t know what happened, I felt here under my rib something that pulled, but the physio said that nothing was pulled,” an emotional Berrettini said on court after the win. 

“It could be some muscle that wasn’t working properly. But I was really feeling it when I was serving and then obviously my mindset went a little bit away because I was thinking about it. I was two sets up, I was playing good, I was feeling the momentum, then all of a sudden I felt this. 

“I’m really glad I could win the third set, now I have to do a great job with my physio to get back on court in two days.”

Key stats

Berrettini’s average first-serve speed was 203km/h in the first two sets, but dropped to 194km/h in the third set after he sustained the side strain.

The world No.10 struck 46 winners including 17 aces throughout the contest. He won an impressive 84 per cent of his first-serve points and had a 72 per cent (21/29) success rate at the net.

What this means for Khachanov

The powerful Russian was one of the first of his ‘Next Gen’ crew to make a statement on tour when he defeated Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev back-to-back to lift the Paris Masters trophy in 2018.

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Khachanov relinquished a big opportunity in the third-set tiebreak

He made his top-10 debut seven months later but has since been surpassed by his compatriots Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, and others from his generation like Berrettini and the slightly younger Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov.

Now 20 in the world, Khachanov can draw positives from his promising start to 2021 and will be keen to get back into the top 10.

What’s next for Berrettini?

The Italian lost to Tsitsipas in their sole previous tour-level meeting, in the Australian Open first round in 2019.

Tsitsipas was also the victor when they faced off in US Open qualifying in 2017. Both matches were tight affairs though, and Berrettini is now at a different level compared to where he was two years ago.

The world No.10 will be searching for his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since making the semis at the US Open in 2019.