July 9, 2021
Matteo Berrettini is in scintillating form and poses a genuine threat to Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
The 25-year-old is in supremely confident mood after winning Queen’s and reaching the Wimbledon showpiece.
Berrettini is the first Italian man or woman to reach a Wimbledon singles final. So he has already achieved something special.
The underdog has adapted beautifully to grass and in a sense he has nothing to lose.
Djokovic, on the other hand, risks feeling the weight of history on his shoulders on the big day.
He knows only too well this Wimbledon victory would bring him level with the great Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on twenty Grand Slam titles.
Will the statistic work for him or against him? Serena Williams knows the danger of counting Slams.
There were times during Novak’s semi-final against the fiery Denis Shapovalov when the Serb looked vulnerable, particularly in the first set.
The Canadian served for it and should have eased to set point with a simple forehand that went begging.
It was Shapovalov’s lack of composure as much as anything Novak did that proved key in that pivotal opener.
Denis could have broken to go 3-1 ahead in the second set. He only needed to drive down an unprotected line on one of three successive break points.
Instead Shapovalov inexplicably tried a more difficult cross-court pass and Novak was waiting to clean up.
It was a similar story when the younger man could have gone 4-2 ahead in the second and squandered two break points. There were further break points early in the third too.
In reality Djokovic was there for the taking more than once in that semi-final before he came through by an enthralling 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 7-5.
Can Berrettini take advantage of an uncharacteristic tightness in Djokovic this weekend?
He certainly has the all-round game to test the Serb to the limit.
Against Hubert Hurkacz, Berrettini won an extraordinary eleven games in a row to rip the guts out of the contest.
It was this amazing display of power and poise that really had us wondering whether he could cause an upset against the world number one.
Of course Berrettini is not impervious to the odd attack of nerves either and he lost the third-set tie-break.
And yet that temporary reverse didn’t impact on his long-term psychological strength.
Matteo explained later: ‘I lost that third set but I thought “It doesn’t matter, I’m playing better.”‘
That’s why he found the composure to close out 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4.
Not that he isn’t somewhat stunned by his recent run of success and the prospect of the Wimbledon final.
He added: ‘I have no words. I need a couple of hours to understand what happened.
‘I played a great match and my family is here, my whole team. I think I never dreamed about this because it’s too much.
‘I’m just so happy. Grazie. So far this is the best tennis day of my life.’
So far. Now Berrettini needs to realise he belongs in this final and he has a great chance to pull off a surprise.
Of course Djokovic still starts as strong favourite. He has been here so many times before. He seeks a third consecutive Wimbledon title and a sixth in all.
He knows what is required. And what a magnificent achievement this would be!
If Novak stops thinking about equalling Federer and Nadal and concentrates on his calm mastery of the game, he will come out on top.
Don’t be surprised if this stretches to four or five sets. It’s going to be an epic.
Will you be there to witness history in the making?