Matteo Berrettini has already created a slew of Italian firsts in tennis.
Back in January, when he reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, he became the first player from Italy ever to make the quarter-finals in each of the four majors. A year ago, he was also the first Italian man to appear in the Wimbledon final.
One code Berrettini has been unable to crack? The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, where he has yet to advance past the third round. Believe it or not, before Sunday he had managed only a single victory (over Alejandro Tabilo) in three previous appearances here. Based on his 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 second-round win over committed qualifier Holger Rune, this might be the year he checks that box.
And when it was over, after a pair of unreturnable serves finally delivered him, Berrettini tapped his racquet appreciatively and scanned the four sides of the arena. And then he let out a deep sigh.
“It was definitely a tough match – I expected it,” Berrettini said in his on-court interview. “He’s improving every time I see him. He’s going to have a bright future.
“Today I think I was able to manage the strokes. I’m really happy, because I wasn’t feeling that comfortable in the court.”
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The #NextGenATP Rune, still only 18, collected his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw victory in the first round over Ugo Humbert. The Dane, uncommonly agile and athletic even among professionals, is ranked a career-high No. 86 and is a former World No. 1 junior. A year ago, as a 17-year-old qualifier in Santiago, he became the first ATP Tour player born in 2003 to reach a quarter-final. He even took a second-set tie-break from World No. 1 Novak Djokovic after qualifying at last year’s US Open, his first major.
In the third set, Berrettini’s formidable forehand and serve began to open up some distance. With Rune serving at 1-all, he double-faulted to give Berrettini a break point. The Italian ripped a low, tight forehand and a charging Rune sent a backhand volley into the net. Perhaps sensing that lost moment as pivotal, Rune whacked the top of the net with his racquet on the way to his changeover chair.
That break held up the rest of the way in a match that saw Berrettini hit 27 winners – 14 of them aces and 12 from the forehand side.
“I like the courts, the atmosphere, it’s very nice,” said Berrettini when asked about his less-than-stellar record at Indian Wells. “For one reason or another, I got here half-injured or something always happened.
“I’m pretty old for tennis , but I didn’t play this tournament too many times. It takes time and sometimes a little bit of luck. Hopefully, this is going to be the good one.”