New York | Berrettini takes on Nadal
It seems the NextGen are finally making some inroads into the events that matter like the US Open which this year features two 23-year-olds in the semi-finals on opposite sides of the draw.
I was lucky I had match points and he didn't have it -- it's better when you have them. I'm really proud of myself, I was always focusing on the next point. Matteo Berrettini
On Tuesday Russia’s Daniil Medvedev claimed his spot in the last four to face Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who at 28 is finally putting together the sort of results many expected of him many years ago.
On Wednesday Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, seeded 20, became the second NextGen member to progress into the semi-finals when he outlasted the 13th seeded Gael Monfils over an exhausting three hours and 57-minutes to emerge the 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 7-6(5) victor.
It is the first time an Italian has reached the last four at Flushing Meadows since 1977 when Corrado Barazzutti made the semis, and only the fourth to reach the semis at any Grand Slam singles tournament, the other two players being Adriano Panatta and Marco Cecchinato.
“What a great fight. I think it was one of the best matches I maybe ever saw — I was playing but I also saw. I’m really happy I don’t know what to say,” Berrettini exclaimed following his excellent achievement.
It certainly hadn’t been easy for Berrettini blew a 5-2 lead in the final set and watched four match points disappear before finally seeing off the 32-year-old Frenchman in what was thrilling contest played out on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I was lucky I had match points and he didn’t have it — it’s better when you have them. I’m really proud of myself, I was always focusing on the next point.”
Nerves played their part as Berrettini double faulted on his first match point at 5-3 to herald a bit of a fightback from Monfils who fought off the next two to force a final set tie-break.
This time it was Monfils who suffered nerves as he delivered two-double faults in the breaker bringing his total for the match to 17, allowing Berrettini to leap ahead 5-2 and set up his fourth winning chance which again was foiled by his opponent.
He didn’t miss his next opportunity, sealing his place in the semis with one of his now trademark, booming serves.
“Right now I don’t remember any points, just the match point. I remember also my double fault I must be honest,” Berrettini admitted.
“I know how to bounce back, I’ve had some tough ones here before,” said Monfils, who was beaten by Roger Federer in the 2014 quarter-finals after holding two match points!
“It was tough, I was just competing as much as I could but there was a big lack of serve today.”
“I’m going to take the positive from these two weeks,” he added.
For Berrettini to light up the Italian record books, he must now overcome a player who has become the favourite to lift this year’s trophy, namely Rafa Nadal chasing his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and 19th Grand Slam overall.
The Spaniard is the last of the Big Three left standing both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer having been eliminated – Djokovic retiring with a shoulder injury during his fourth round match with Stan Wawrinka and Federer suffering in the quarters, a five set loss to Dimitrov after which he revealed he had been suffering back and neck problems.
Nadal was to receive some attention to the forearm of his racket arm during his quarter-final clash with the feisty albeit diminutive Diego Schwartzman, the 20th seed from Argentina, only to shrug off any injury problems when questioned later.
The Mallorcan, as expected, triumphed 6-4 7-5 6-2 to go though but it wasn’t as easy as the three-set scoreline would suggest.
For a start it took him nearly three hours to secure that victory as Schwartzman fought doggedly, twice recovering from double-breaks deficits in the first two sets.
In the first set, Nadal led 4-0 before Schwartzman got to 4-all. In the second, Nadal went up 5-1 before Schwartzman made it 5-all before the second seed claimed them both after some two hours of play.
With the Spaniard finding another gear, he ran out the winner to clinch a berth in his 33rd Grand Slam semi-final.
“Straight sets but big challenges especially after the first two sets, having 4-0 and 5-1 and losing both breaks in a row, but I know how good he is when he’s confident,” Nadal said later.
“I’m so happy how I accepted the situation and challenge and kept going, point after point. Here I am in the semi-finals. I’m super happy, it means everything.”
Nadal, who was forced to retire during last year’s semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro, played down concerns over his left forearm as he received treatment early in the third set.
“Physically I am fine. Today was a very heavy day, big humidity out there. I’m this kind of player who sweats a little, but sometimes under these conditions it’s tough,” he explained.
“He’s like a lion in the middle of the jungle. He’s a fighter,” Schwartzman said of Nadal having lost the opportunity of becoming the shortest Grand Slam semi-finalist since 5’6” Harold Solomon at Roland Garros in 1980 who is only one inch shorter than he is.
“He knows how to play the important moments every single time. I played eight times, and every important moment he played better than me,” the 26-year-old from Buenos Aires added.
The NextGen are banging on the door but the question over the next few days is whether Nadal will let them in.