Australian Open: Berrettini banks on recent form against Nadal in semis (preview)

Melbourne, Jan 27 (IANS) Italy’s Matteo Berrettini meets Spanish legend Rafael Nadal in a rematch of their 2019 US Open last-four clash in the Australian Open semi-finals here on Friday.

As the clock ticks down for their second meeting in a Grand Slam semi-final, the question foremost in tennis fans’ minds is whether the Italian World No 7 will be able to stop Nadal from inching closer to his 21st Grand Slam title. Nadal is tied with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at 20 Grand Slam titles, the most in the history of men’s tennis. With Federer still recuperating from surgery and Djokovic deported from Australia for being unvaccinated, Nadal has a great chance of becoming the most successful player in Grand Slam history.

But Berrettini is hoping to be second time lucky and stop the Spanish star’s juggernaut on Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity for me. I’ve watched him so many times in this tournament, in other tournaments, cheering for him,” said Berrettini, who outlasted Frenchman Gael Monfils in a thrilling three-hour, 49-minute quarter-final, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2. “I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It’s going to be a really tough one, but I’m in the semis of a Slam for the third time, so it means that this is my level,” the 25-year-old Italian was quoted as saying by the ATP Tour in a report on its official website.

According to the report, Reflecting on his last-four matchup against Nadal in Flushing Meadows, Berrettini said it was then – even in defeat – that he truly began to believe he was capable of winning big titles.

“Before my semi at the US Open, I didn’t really think that I could have done so much. Not because I didn’t believe, but just because I came from a mentality that I took every step day by day,” he said. “I was never the guy who said, ‘I’m going to turn pro, then I’m going to win a Slam.’ Then, when I made the semis, I said, ‘I want to do it again. I want to try to go further.'”

Like Berrettini, Nadal needed five taxing sets to get through his quarter-final, edging Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, in four hours and seven minutes, a match that he said left him all but “destroyed”.

Chasing a record 21st major singles title, the 35-year-old Mallorcan should benefit from a two-day buffer between the quarters and semis.

“I think it’s important to have these two days off after a brutal match out there,” said Nadal, whose 2021 campaign was cut in half by a foot injury. The conditions were hard.”

Having jump-started his return to the Tour with a title run at the Melbourne Summer Set in Week 1, and now a spotless 8-0 on the year, Nadal will need all his reserves if he’s going to prevail against the heavy-hitting Berrettini in his seventh Australian Open semi-final.

“Matteo is one of the best players in the world,” said Nadal, the 2009 champion. “He’s very solid. I need to play at 100 percent, my highest level if I want to keep having chances to fight, to be competitive, to try to be in the final. But to be able to be in the semi-final of a Grand Slam after everything I’ve been through is a lot of positive energy for me.”

The report on the ATP website says Nadal insists it’s his love of the sport, not his record-book pursuit alongside Federer and Djokovic, that continues to motivate him some two decades after he turned pro.

“It’s a real honour to be part of it, without a doubt. I don’t hope for anything. I just keep going. I’m just enjoying playing tennis. Of course, I want to keep winning. But more than wanting to achieve or have more than the others, it’s because I love what I am doing. I want to keep doing this as long as possible. In the past six months, there have been a lot of doubts about whether I would be able to keep going. But now I feel good. I’m in the semi-finals of the Australian Open – that’s amazing for me.”

He said his future happiness does not depend on whether he achieves more Grand Slams than the others, or the “others achieve more Grand Slams than me”.

“I am super-satisfied and I feel very lucky as a person in general for all the things that have happened to me in this life. I have a way of approaching life: You can’t always be frustrated if the neighbour has a bigger house than you, or a better phone, or better things. I’m not going to be frustrated if Novak or Roger finishes their careers with more Grand Slams than me. Let’s enjoy the situation that we have. Every one of us has done very special things in our sport,” said Nadal.