Matteo Berrettini is here to stay

It is tempting to call Matteo Berrettini a high-roller, given that his big game demands going all-in at the table and not being passive or cautious.

Berrettini is the owner of a massive serve and a flamethrower forehand, the kinds of shots which give him the upper hand in exchanges and enable him to end points relatively quickly. On a tour with lots of serve-and-forehand players — athletes who rely on those two shots to win matches and fatten their paychecks — it’s easy to think that Berrettini’s identity as a tennis player doesn’t go much deeper than that, especially since his backhand isn’t viewed to be as strong or dependable as some of the other players in the top 10.

Yet, the high-roller image — a tennis player who pursues casino real money — is flawed and incomplete.

What we have seen in the past year from Matteo Berrettini has emerged again at the Australian Open. Beyond the physical strength, the huge game, and the bludgeoning strokes is a warrior spirit which finds a very deep well of toughness when the situation gets complicated and the body is pushed to its limits.

Berrettini has not been fully healthy at this Australian Open. He has needed medical attention during some of his matches. He has walked with a slight limp at times. This is not the 100-percent version of the Italian, much as Rafael Nadal is still not 100 percent. The Spanish icon was seen grimacing in pain during a changeover in his quarterfinal win over Denis Shapovalov.

Yet, Berrettini has fought through the pain to beat quality players in long matches, both after losing a fourth set and being pushed to a fifth. He made this journey against rising teenager Carlos Alcaraz, a man who is considered to be the future of the sport. Berrettini saw off Alcaraz in five. A few days later, Gael Monfils — seeking a first major final and championship — won the third and fourth sets to take Berrettini the distance.

Losing the fourth set and having to go five is a supreme mental challenge for any male tennis player thrust into the cauldron of major-tournament pressure. Losing that fourth set makes it seem as though a previous advantage has been wiped away, and that a match might be slipping through one’s fingers. A fifth set is a one-set shootout after a four-set long distance race.

It’s not just about shots, but staying power, in fifth sets. It’s not just about tactics, but toughness.

Berrettini has found inner steel instead of softness when the moment really demanded it. His ability to rise to the pressure — with his body barking at him in pain and discomfort, in the face of fierce and inspired opposition — says so much about how much he has evolved.

This is the man who battled Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros quarterfinals last year. This is the man who made the Wimbledon final by overcoming a bad third set against Hubert Hurkacz in the 2021 semifinals. This is the man who has made himself a fixture in the top 10 and has now reached the semifinals at three of the four major tournaments with this trip to the Aussie Open semis. His next foe is a man who wrote the book on toughness: Rafael Nadal.

Don’t put it past Matteo Berrettini to win that match, either. The toughness he has found — and displayed to all the world — makes him much more than a glamorous version of a tennis high-roller.

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