Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup

Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup
Portugal stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow at World Cup

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Matteo Berrettini targets return to world top 10 with Diriyah Tennis Cup campaign

After a stop-start 2022 campaign that saw Matteo Berrettini miss two of the four tennis grand slams due to injuries and illness, the Italian is hoping he enjoys a healthier 2023 as he targets a return to the world’s top 10.

Berrettini, who is in Saudi Arabia this week competing in the Diriyah Tennis Cup, was ranked a career-high No.6 early this season after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.

A right-hand injury that required surgery ruled him out of the entire clay season before he made an impressive return to the tour, winning back-to-back grass-court titles in Stuttgart and London. Bad luck struck again, however, as he tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of Wimbledon and the 26-year-old sat out the action, knowing he was considered one of the favorites for the title.

Last month, a foot problem he picked up in Naples stopped him from playing singles for Italy in the Davis Cup finals, where he took part in just one doubles match before wrapping up his season.

“Mentally, it was really tough,” Berrettini told Arab News, reflecting on his 2022 campaign.

“I was at my best ranking, I was playing good, I had a good run in Australia, clay season was coming and grass season was coming, which are the ones I love the most, and then that injury happened so it was tough to deal with that.

“At the same time I tried to take that time in order to come back stronger, with more energy. Because, obviously, the tour can be really tiring in some ways, so I was like, OK, I have to stop and get surgery, but I’m going to try to use this time to get better, to maybe do something I wouldn’t able to do when I’m on tour. Just invest some time to do stuff I never had the time to do and I helped myself like that.

“It worked out because when I came back I was feeling ready, I was feeling good. Obviously after I got COVID in Wimbledon everything went a little bit downhill, but it’s ups and downs and, hopefully, next year there are going to be more ups.”

Berrettini admits it is tough getting back to being fully focused on tennis, and not spending too much time worrying about his body and his physical problems.

He said that he is feeling better and is “ready to compete” with an eye on having another strong run in Australia next month.

The Rome native explains how he tries to bring an intensity to his practice sessions to mimic match conditions in order to regain that match toughness he was lacking while dealing with injuries. He believes a healthier body can help relieve some of the pressure he has been feeling at tournaments lately.

“In general, I would like to be healthier. I played I don’t know how many tournaments this year and I felt like each tournament I played I had to perform and get points, otherwise my ranking would drop even more and having that kind of pressure is not easy to deal with,” said Berrettini.  

“So being healthy would mean also to be less stressed about that, so that’s one of the goals for sure (in 2023). Obviously I’d like to come back to the top 10, because I think the tennis is there, I just have to be more consistent.”

A former Wimbledon finalist with a devastating serve and forehand combination, Berrettini has shown great consistency at the grand slams over the last few years. He has made at least the quarterfinals in each of his last five major appearances, losing to Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in four of them.

The men’s game is going through a generational change right now and players such as Berrettini are no longer focused only on chasing Djokovic and Nadal at the biggest events. The current world No.1 is Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz and Berrettini senses a shift in mentality on tour now that a 19-year-old is at the helm.

“It feels unbelievable if you think about it, what he achieved in such a short time,” Berrettini said of Alcaraz.

“I remember playing him in Australia at the beginning of the year and I played him Rio as well, and I felt he is a great player but what he did is still impressive for his age. The physicality he already has and everything, also mentally it’s not easy to deal with everything that he dealt with, so it’s impressive.

“At the same time we know that tennis it’s really tough, but it’s not impossible, we all know we can play our best tennis, I have to say it was a weird year with Novak not playing most of the slams, it was kind of a little weird. But Carlos deserves the world No.1 and I think everybody now is like, OK, he did it, yeah maybe it changed (our mentality) a little bit, it’s like maybe we can do it as well.

“Before world No.1 was Novak and Rafa, Daniil (Medvedev) already did it, which was impressive, but now, even Casper (Ruud) had the chance to be No.1 after the US Open.”

Away from the court, Berrettini has had an eventful year, full of new experiences. He became one of the faces of the fashion label Boss, alongside TikTok star Khaby Lame and supermodel Hailey Bieber. He attended the Cannes Film Festival and has been followed by cameras all year as one of the protagonists of the Netflix tennis docu-series that will be released early next season.

“It’s been fun,” he said of being part of the Netflix project.

“At the beginning I was like, what is this? Obviously when you win it’s always easy to have people around you and stuff but then when you lose, it’s tougher, you want to be by yourself, you don’t want to be bothered. But I was like, if I’m going to do this, I want to do it the right way. And that’s what I tried to do. I think it’s going to be really interesting to show people behind-the-scenes the stuff you don’t usually see.”

Berrettini lost his Diriyah Tennis Cup opener on Thursday to Stan Wawrinka. The Italian kicks off his 2023 campaign by representing Italy in the United Cup mixed team event in Brisbane, Australia, starting Dec. 29.

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