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Alexander Zverev tops Berrettini in Madrid to clinch 15th ATP title
After defeating Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem in succession, the German completed his run with a second trophy at the Caja Magica Sunday, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3.
Published May 09, 2021
Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini have each completed a great week of clay-court tennis. Besides fighting from a set down to beat Berrettini, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3, in the Mutua Madrid Open final, Zverev’s second run to the title in Madrid was highlighted by back-to-back wins over the best clay courters of recent times, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, as well as solid veteran Kei Nishikori and crafty Dan Evans. Berrettini shined well too, along the way beating such disparate stylists as fellow Italian Fabio Fognini, formidable Chilean Cristian Garin, and the rising young Norwegian, Casper Ruud.
In its own right, going this far at a Masters 1000 event like this is a commendable effort, on a par with Indian Wells and Miami. But such is the narrative direction of the tennis year that results at European clay-court tournaments like Madrid can’t help but be viewed as waystations on a larger map. From Monte Carlo to Madrid, Barcelona to Rome and every spring spot in between, all roads lead to Paris. Any results on this highway naturally lend themselves to one big question: What might this mean for Roland Garros?
Start with the winner. This was Zverev’s 15th career singles title, an impressive tally to have reached by age 23. It was also his fourth Masters 1000 victory, a sign that Zverev can earn repeated wins against extremely deep fields. This week in Madrid, he showed improved poise, likely aided by an increased fitness level.
At his best, Zverev skillfully mixes attrition and aggression. Add to that a fantastic serve and it’s no wonder Zverev has been a top tenner since 2017. Call him a big man’s version of the way contemporary tennis is played, at once familiar, forceful, patterned.
Berrettini seeks to shatter that model, his game at its peak exceptionally concussive, most notably courtesy of a bazooka-like forehand capable of hitting winners from and to all corners of the courts. It’s a high-octane style reminiscent of Fernando Gonzalez, a top tenner in the ‘00s, and, going further back, 1979 Roland Garros finalist, Victor Pecci.
So there is no question these two are both contenders of note headed into Roland Garros. And yet, when studying the arc of each man’s career—and also layering in his playing style and tactical gestalt—two words come to mind: security risk.
Just how reliable can Zverev be when playing best-of-five sets for 14 days? Does he have the physical, emotional and tactical stability to weather the ebbs and flow of long matches? Zverev today served seven double-faults, including one in the first set tiebreaker at 8-all that in large part cost him the set. How will that delivery hold up over the Roland Garros fortnight? Impressive as he was in beating Thiem in the Madrid semis, there’s a composure Thiem brings to long matches that is more stable even in defeat. But perhaps, in the wake of Zverev’s brutal loss to Thiem in the finals of last year’s US Open, he will compete in Paris more freely than ever.
Berrettini personifies raw danger and potential. There appears to be not much margin in his game, little other than a missile-like A+ style that can greatly dictate rallies – and also burn up tons of fuel. It it not easy to win match after match hitting untouchable shots. But in fairness to Berrettini, his ascent has only begun. Just over two years ago, he was ranked outside the Top 50. But by the end of 2019, he’d cracked the Top 10.
“I wasn't one of the guys at 18, 19 or 20 was thinking about reaching this kind of achievements and stuff,” he said today in Madrid. “I really work hard to be here.”
Perhaps what appears high-risk might well be shots Berrettini owns and can deliver again and again. Without a doubt, he will be one of the more intriguing contenders at Roland Garros. Welcome to the curiosity that accompanies the shot-maker.
On now to Rome.