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Matteo Berrettini maintains focus

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports

Matteo Berrettini continues to open eyes in Shanghai.

We have seen the following story many times: A young tennis player reaches a new milestone in the late spring or at any point in the summer. He (or she) puts in the work, raises his game, takes advantage of an opportunity in a draw, and makes a splash at a big tournament as part of a clear rise in the tennis world.

Then, after the U.S. Open, the balloon is punctured. Carrying the improvements of a season through autumn to the very end of the year becomes difficult. All that hard climbing, all the strain of the spring and summer, turns into a deflated and punchless performance in the final leg of the season.

This progression of events is not shameful. It is not embarrassing or unacceptable. It is simply the law of the jungle, part of the normal workings of this sport for many of its practitioners. Young athletes invest so much energy in certain tournaments or certain segments of the sports year that they struggle to sustain that energy for a prolonged period of time.

Another struggle for the young tennis player on his way up is this: dealing with the pressure and intensity thrown at him by the rest of the tour after he does something to make himself a clear and conspicuous target.

It is often difficult to handle a new life as a player who gets scouted — and competed against — with more vigor, especially if that athlete hasn’t faced such a dynamic before, at least not on a large scale.

With all of this in mind, it was very easy to think that Matteo Berrettini would not do much in Shanghai, and that a proven veteran, Roberto Bautista Agut, would have the answers for him in the round of 16.

Nope.

Berrettini didn’t run out of steam. He didn’t arrive on court bereft of ideas. In a battle of two surprise major semifinalists from 2019 — RBA at Wimbledon, Matteo at the U.S. Open — Berrettini took charge and powered his way into the Shanghai quarterfinals.

Berrettini won’t be favored to beat Dominic Thiem. However:

  1. Berrettini should gain a benefit from the simple reality of playing Thiem. Consider how much Berrettini has evolved as a tennis player since his limp showing against Roger Federer at Wimbledon. He could have crumbled after that blowout loss, but he instead learned from it. That shows me a lot.
  2. Berrettini has already showed that the U.S. Open wasn’t the end of his season. There is still more good tennis in the Italian’s bones and marrow.

Will Matteo Berrettini make the ATP Finals? We will find out in this next month. Regardless of whether that happens, however, we know this much: Berrettini keeps offering evidence that he can display an appreciable degree of staying power on tour. That is no small thing, and it sets up a highly intriguing fall indoor season in the coming weeks.

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Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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