Two years ago, Matteo Berrettini started the 2019 ATP Tour season at No. 54 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. The Italian, who had yet to crack the Top 50, was aiming to add to his title collection after picking up his maiden ATP Tour trophies in singles and doubles at the Swiss Open Gstaad in 2018.
Not only did the Italian manage to add to his trophy cabinet, he also produced one of the most unlikely runs to Nitto ATP Finals qualification in tournament history. Berrettini collected two ATP Tour titles and reached the semi-finals or better at eight tour-level events, including the US Open, to qualify for the elite eight-man event for the first time.
Understandably, the 6’5” right-hander’s rapid 2019 ascent took some time to process. To put it simply, Berrettini had gone from being a hunter to the hunted.
“[In 2018, I started the season at] No. 135 so it is definitely different. You feel that when you are in the draw, they are looking at you like, ‘Okay, this guy is a seed so I want to beat him even more’. It definitely changed, but it is what you have to take,” said Berrettini. “There are pros and cons and I think you have to get used to it. Once you play tournaments and matches, you are going to be able to get used to it and to get better at it.”
Due to a hernia/groin injury and the suspension of the ATP Tour due to COVID-19 last year, Berrettini was limited to just six tournament appearances in 2020. But while he was unable to carry his momentum into 2020, the extra time on the sidelines gave the Rome-born star an opportunity to reflect on achieving one of his career goals and set his objectives for the future.
“Once you get [to the Top 10], you cannot say, ‘Okay, I am going to be happy if I am Top 20’… Obviously, it is not bad at all,” said Berrettini. “When I was younger and I was thinking about myself being Top 20, I was like, ‘Okay, it could be a nice goal for my career’. I was Top 8 and obviously I am chasing to be even better, but I got there without thinking about it. It is in my head, but I have to work every day and hopefully I can improve my best ranking.”
Berrettini is not the only Italian with ambitious plans on the ATP Tour. Alongside France, Italy is one of only two countries to have four players inside the Top 40.
The rise of Italian tennis has given the three-time ATP Tour titlist a great sense of pride and it has also served as a motivational tool. Berrettini can rely on the support of his fellow Top 40 countrymen Fabio Fognini, Lorenzo Sonego and Jannik Sinner throughout the season at ATP Tour events.
”It is something that we should be really proud of. All the players are really nice guys and there are others coming,” said Berrettini. “It is a really healthy environment for tennis in Italy… The guys are great, Lorenzo [Songeo], Jannik [Sinner], Fabio [Fognini] and also the other guys. We have fun when we practise together. We are helping each other to reach our goals and I think this is something really healthy and really great for tennis.”
There is also an added incentive for Italian players to perform to their best level in 2021, following the relocation of the Nitto ATP Finals to Turin. Berrettini will be aiming to make his second appearance at the season finale in three years. The Italian also attended last year’s event as the first alternate.
”It would be great to be there. It is in Italy, Turin is a great city and I think it is going to be a great, great event,” said Berrettini. “London was unbelievable, it was really nice and it has been a nice way to finish the year. I remember all my team and all my family was there, a lot of people came and it was nice. It would be nice to be there in Turin too but I think you have to go step-by-step. At the beginning of 2019, I didn’t think about that, so I think I have to think tournament-by-tournament.”
The Antalya quarter-finalist will make his second appearance of the season at the ATP Cup in February, where he will lead Team Italy for the first time. With the support of teammates Fognini, Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori, the innovative team event could prove to be the perfect springboard for a successful 2021 campaign for Berrettini.