Sport

Matteo Berrettini: ‘Winning Wimbledon? It sounds crazy but I know I can do it’

Sometimes it takes a while before the scale of an achievement such as reaching the final of Wimbledon for the first time sinks in. For Matteo Berrettini it came within a few hours. Having attended the Euro 2020 final and seen Italy defeat England on penalties, Berrettini joined the team on the pitch for the celebrations. They told him they had been glued to the television earlier in the day, willing him on against his opponent, Novak Djokovic.

“After they won I went to congratulate them and they were like: ‘We should have napped but we couldn’t because you were playing; we couldn’t rest,’” says a beaming Berrettini. “And they were really pumped, they were really happy for what I’d done, what I achieved. Some of them are still texting me. We are still in touch. It was just everything together, it was special.

“I remember the first press conference at Queen’s last year, they said: ‘There are going to be two finals on 11 July. What if it’s going to be Italy and you?’ And I was like: ‘Yeah, right, guys, there’s no chance,’ not just for me but also for them. I don’t know the odds of that. It happened and that’s why I think it was so special.”

The following day was even more unreal for Berrettini. The first Italian man to reach the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon, he was invited on the victory parade in Rome together with the football team – an even greater recognition of what he had achieved. “Even people that didn’t know about tennis, if you tell them ‘Wimbledon’, they’re going to know what it is,” he says.

“It’s so special. That’s why it was so big last year, because people stopped me in the streets and told me: ‘The last time I watched a tennis match was 20 years ago, 30 years ago. And you made me watch the finals.’

“It’s unbelievable that it was me that was playing. And then it makes me feel really proud because I was on probably the biggest stage on a tennis court. I was one of the main characters. That’s why it was so big. And in Italy it was even bigger.”

Berrettini is now a man in demand. Ludicrously handsome, the 26-year-old has been inundated with new sponsors and requests on his time. A big server with a huge forehand, in the year that has passed since his run to the final at SW19 he has added consistency at the top level to his obvious talent. He was a quarter-finalist at the US Open in 2021 and reached the semi-finals at this year’s Australian Open in January, only to lose to Rafael Nadal, who went on to win the title.

In March he pulled out of Miami with a problem with his right hand that required surgery. Resisting the urge to come back too soon, he missed the clay-court season and returned to action in Stuttgart only this month.

It proved to be a wise decision as he beat Andy Murray to win the title and then followed up by winning Queen’s again, repeating his double from last year.

Twelve months ago he felt good but did not believe he could win Wimbledon. Things have changed. “I would say that I’m a better player because I improved some things on my game and mentally, the experience of last year, it’s been helping me since then, and now [also] a year more on grass,” he says.

“Last year I came here winning Queen’s and so I was feeling a lot of confidence but I wasn’t like, OK, I’m going to get to the finals. This year I feel like I can do it again.

“It’s a different kind of pressure but at the same time it comes because I feel it, because [of] the results that I’ve done, because of what I feel inside, so that feels good.”

Berrettini is one of many players who will be severely affected by the ATP’s decision to strip Wimbledon of ranking points, a reaction to the All England’s Club’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is a decision he does not like but it does not affect his love of the place, nor has it stopped him from thinking about what it would be like to win the men’s singles title.

“There’s something special [about it], I cannot even tell you or explain to you why or what it is,” he says. “But it just feels really nice. To win it, I don’t even know.

“It sounds crazy but at the same time I know I can do it. It would mean a lot and it would mean for sure the highest moment of my career and my life.

“Considering that last year I lost in the final and my life completely changed, it would be even more. But it’s nice to think that I’m still the same kid that was dreaming about playing tennis, dreaming about playing this tournament, not even winning it.

“It would be a life change for sure and especially after what I experienced in the last months, it would be a lot.”