Matteo Berrettini likes to tell a story about how, as a youngster, he was not considered to be a great athlete, finding himself bottom of the stats when it came to athletic prowess among his fellow top junior players.
On Friday, the 25-year-old from Rome became the first Italian – man or woman – to reach the Wimbledon final, beating Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, the 14th seed, 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 with a barrage of stunning strikes.
In the biggest match of his career to date, the No 7 seed hit 60 winners, served like a dream with 22 aces, and made just 18 unforced errors to take his place in a first grand slam final.
“I have no words, really,” said Berrettini, who banged his heart in the direction of his family and team after Hurkacz’s final forehand return flew over the baseline. “I just know I played a great match, my family’s there, my whole team … I’m really proud. I think I never dreamed about this because it was too much of a dream. I’m just so happy. I think that’s it.”
It was Vincenzo Santopadre, his long-term coach, who encouraged him as a teenager to be patient and his protégé is coming good on the biggest stage of all. Berrettini is the first Italian man since Adriano Panatta, a fellow Roman, to reach a grand slam final and 45 years after Panatta’s French Open victory, he will play Novak Djokovic for the title.
It was a brilliant performance from Berrettini, who had the edge in terms of experience, having already been to a grand slam semi-final once before, at the US Open in 2019. Hurkacz had beaten the eight-times champion Roger Federer to reach his first slam semi-final but the Italian, who won the title at Queen’s Club last month, looked sharp from the start.
Three break points came and went on the Pole’s serve in the third game but he didn’t panic and as the first set wore on, he seemed to be reading the Hurkacz serve. Berrettini got the break for 4-3 and broke again two games later to take the set.
Hurkacz had shown a willingness to come forward throughout the tournament, displaying a comfort at the net, but after a drop shot fell back his side of the net, the second set passed by in the blink of an eye.
The Pole took a break after the set to gather his thoughts and it helped, his game clicking back into gear. Berrettini had a scare when he slipped at the start of the eighth game and though it didn’t seem to affect him, he couldn’t break the Hurkacz serve and his opponent played an excellent tiebreak to snatch the set.
It would have been easy for Berrettini to start wondering what might have been but he simply regrouped, broke in the first game of the fourth set and though he missed a match point on the Hurkacz serve at 5-3, he made no mistake when serving out for victory.
“I think after the third set I was feeling I deserved to win that set and lost it,” Berrettini admitted. “I said to myself: ‘[It] doesn’t matter,’ I was feeling I was the stronger player, and it paid off.” It was a disappointing end for Hurkacz, but the Pole will look back on a breakthrough grand-slam event, reaching the last four for the first time and beating his hero, Federer, on Centre Court.
“Matteo played unbelievable match today,” Hurkacz said. “In every single service game, he was serving bombs. I didn’t have many chances, basically probably zero. So huge congrats for him that he kept such a high level throughout the whole four sets.
“He was putting a lot of pressure on me. My first serve really wasn’t helping me, which usually does and gets me out of trouble. I was struggling with that. Plus he was putting a lot of pressure on me and he was playing really amazing without doing any unforced errors. If he continues to play like this, he has a big chance in the final.”
The last time Berrettini played on Centre Court was in 2019, when he was hammered by Federer in straight sets. It was a match that the Roman thinks will now help him. “Against Roger two years ago, it wasn’t the same performance but he’s a legend,” Berrettini said. “I enjoyed it even though I lost, that experience helped me a lot to prepare for today. Now, let’s see. So far it’s the best day tennis-wise of my life. Hopefully Sunday is going to be even better. I’m so proud to bring the flag here.”