Live by the serve. Die by the serve. That’s how it went today for Matteo Berrettini in Rome during his third-round match at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia versus Stefanos Tsitsipas. In the tournament’s first meeting between Top 10 players, Tsitsipas won, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

Call it a tale of two sets. For Berrettini, it was the best of serves and the worst of serves. Through the first six games of the opening set, the 25-year-old Italian dropped just one point on his delivery, backing it up with blistering forehands, deep backhands and sprinkles of touch. Aiding Berrettini’s cause: the return of spectators, in this case nearly 1,000 fans, concurrently excited to simply be in attendance and, as a bonus, have the chance to cheer on a native son.

And when Berrettini took a 3-1 lead in the first-set tiebreaker, all seemed favorable. But over the course of five points, everything changed. Serving at 3-2, Berrettini struck two consecutive backhands long, then flagged a forehand to go down 5-3. With Tsitsipas serving at 5-3, Berrettini feathered a crosscourt backhand drop shot. In charged Tsitsipas, barely flicking the ball over the net. Berrettini missed a reasonably makeable volley. Had Tsitsipas hit the ball on one bounce? No way, argued Berrettini—of course, an unsuccessful case. Tsitsipas clinched the first set on the next point.

Advertising

Tsitsipas rides out Berrettini's hot serve in reaching Rome last eight

Tsitsipas rides out Berrettini's hot serve in reaching Rome last eight

Getty Images

The adverse conclusion of the opener cast a spell on Berrettini. In the first two games of the second set, he missed 18 of 22 first serves. Such poor serving naturally gave Tsitsipas the chance to nibble away. Though Berrettini escaped his way past three break points in the opening game and two more at 1-1, the sixth proved his undoing. Swiftly, Tsitsipas served at 2-1, 30-love. While Berrettini eventually earned two break points in that game, he was unable to convert. Having consolidated his break, Tsitsipas was hardly threatened for the rest of the match versus a demoralized opponent. Tsitsipas earned an insurance break at 4-2 and soon enough served it out at love.

Tsitsipas has played four straight weeks of solid clay-court tennis, highlighted by a title run in Monte Carlo and a loss in the final of Barcelona to Rafael Nadal (an epic that saw the Greek hold a championship point). Friday in the quarters, he’ll play Novak Djokovic, the man who beat Tsitsipas in a five-set semifinal last year at Roland Garros. While Tsitsipas’ shot-making skills have always been captivating, this clay court season has revealed improved consistency and poise, backed by what appears to be an increased faith in movement and fitness. Versus Berrettini, Tsitsipas committed only seven unforced errors, an exceptionally impressive tally for a man with such versatility and firepower.

Berrettini too has played well this spring, winning the title in Belgrade, reaching the final in Madrid. As seen for much of the first set today, the A-grade Berrettini is an intimidating sight, a smothering, powerful presence. But versus Tsitsipas, once Berrettini lost his sharp edge, he seemed to have run out of ideas, going from agile creator to passive ball-striker. Two head-scratching sets in Rome, though, hardly determine a man’s fate. Just over two years ago, Berrettini was ranked outside the top 50. Currently he’s number nine, unquestionably graced with the weapons to remain among the elite. But while Tsitsipas will surely be a clear contender at Roland-Garros, you’ll find Berrettini in the dangerous floater category.

Tsitsipas rides out Berrettini's hot serve in reaching Rome last eight

Tsitsipas rides out Berrettini's hot serve in reaching Rome last eight