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The Spirit of '76: At Wimbledon, Matteo Berrettini becomes first Italian men's Grand Slam finalist in 45 years
A 60-winner, 18-error performance was more than enough to end Hubert Hurkacz's run, and bodes well for the final match of his own.
Published Jul 09, 2021
WATCH: Berrettini ousts Hurkacz in four sets to reach the Wimbledon final.
Boris Becker once remarked that a professional tennis player ages so rapidly that every 12 months of a career can best be compared to dog years.
In his last two matches at Wimbledon this year, Hubert Hurkacz saw that premise work in opposite directions. On Wednesday in the quarterfinals, he won 12 of the last 14 games to beat Roger Federer, a dazzling run capped off with the 24-year-old inflicting a third-set bagel on the eight-time champion. Once that final set began, it was clear the 39-year-old Federer was indeed showing the wear and tear of a long tennis life.
But in his semifinal this afternoon against Matteo Berrettini, Hurkacz saw the other side. The gap between what Hurkacz faced today compared to Wednesday was massive, Hurkacz on this occasion at the receiving end of a 25-year-old in full command. From serving at 2-3 in the first set, Berrettini rattled off 11 straight games, a comprehensive display of firepower that eventually led to a 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 victory. The win made Berrettini the first Italian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final since the stylish Adriano Panatta—71 years old today—won Roland Garros in 1976.
“I mean, things are all over the place,” said Berrettini. “At the same time I think I handled the situation pretty well. I step in the court, I was feeling confident. I knew that I could win the match. I think I played my best match so far. So I'm really happy for my performance.”
Hurkacz had looked smooth in beating Federer and, in the previous round, second-seeded Daniil Medvedev in a rain-delayed five-setter. With nimble movements and precision, he’d been suitably disruptive. Berrettini would have none of it. Time and time again, he dictated play. Often he did so simply with big serves, winning 56 of 65 points on his first serve.
“He was serving bombs,” said Hurkacz. “I didn't have many chances, basically probably zero.”
There also frequently came the Berrettini trademark, a blistering forehand. The subtle catalyst for this was the way Berrettini deployed his slice backhand to elicit a forehand he could slash boldly that proved untouchable or elicited an error. From start to finish, Hurkacz was feeling pressure.
It’s typically considered a well-composed match if a player has twice as many winners as unforced errors. Berrettini was even better—60 winners to a stingy 18 unforced. In contrast, Hurkacz’s numbers: 27 winners, 26 unforced.
The match was snapped open when Hurkacz served at 3-5 in the first set. Down 30-40, he shanked a forehand well past the baseline to hand Berrettini the opener. Berrettini then won 12 of the first 13 points of the second set.
He was serving bombs. I didn't have many chances, basically probably zero. Hubert Hurkacz
To Hurkacz’s credit, he hung in well enough to win the third set. At 4-5 and 5-6, he served to stay in the match. Three times, Hurkacz was two points from elimination. Hurkacz went on to play a superb tiebreaker, going up 4-0. At the close of the third set, the crowd erupted, the louder than usual volume also arguably a reminder of what the world has been through and how sublime it was for a full Centre Court audience to collectively gather and witness high tennis drama.
But once again, as he had early in the first set, Berrettini terminated hopes. In the opening game of the fourth, Hurkacz served at 15-40 and attacked the net. Berrettini threw up an excellent lob that landed on the baseline, then followed it up with a slice backhand that elicited a forehand error.
“Especially after the third set, everything was kind of—I felt I could win that set, also win the match, but didn't happen,” said Berrettini. “I said to myself, You're playing better than him, so keep going like this and you're going to win.”
With a break in hand, Berrettini maintained his impeccable serving. Hurkacz fought off a match point at 3-5, and forced Berrettini to serve it out. A very human hitch came when Berrettini served at 5-4—a double-fault for love-15, followed by a nervous forehand volley that clipped the net just well enough to be a winner.
But from 15-all, Berrettini’s serve was front and center, including his 22nd ace at 30-15 and another service winner, wide to the forehand, to close out the match.
Prior to Wimbledon, Berrettini won the iconic grass tune-up event played at Queen’s Club. Success there has often been a fitting prologue for a title run at SW19. One man who won both tournaments in the same year was a precocious teenager who, like Berrettini, had a big serve, massive forehand and played with exceptional passion. His name was Boris Becker, who in 1985 took Wimbledon by a storm at 17. Come Sunday, we’ll see if Berrettini joins him as a champion.