Matteo Berrettini – The Curse of the Hammer?

by Sebastiano Sali
Matteo Berrettini

Matteo Berrettini announced yesterday that his recovery from his last injury is going well. However, he says he does not feel ready to play a five-set match and has therefore withdrawn from the upcoming French Open. He also added that he aims at being ready for the grass season.

In a recent clip Matteo filmed for one of his sponsors, for the first time Berrettini openly used the word depression and admitted that his many injuries took the fun out of his tennis.

Will The Hammer ever be back?

In July 2021, Matteo Berrettini’s star was rising fast in the firmament of world class tennis. And, to be precise, Sunday the 11th of July 2021, represents the zenith, the highest point, of the parable of his star. Am I an astrophysicist? Sadly not. How do I know it? Well, easy. That was the day when, for the first time in the history of Italian tennis, an Italian player (male or female) ever played a final (single or double) at what is by many considered the most prestigious, charming and possibly beautiful tennis tournament in the world: simply, The Championships, Wimbledon.

But then, the Curse of the Hammer fell upon Matteo. Let’s go with order.

Matteo Berrettini was born in Italy’s capital, Rome, in 1996. And despite that, he supports Fiorentina, Florence’s purple-wearing iconic football team. First oddity.

Second oddity, Jacopo, his younger brother, currently ranked 532 in singles and 2210 in doubles, was the better one as juniors. And it took some convincing from his side to make his bigger brother shift from football to tennis.

Berrettini is for sure a late bloomer, both in his junior and senior career. Other Italian players born in the mid-90’s, like Lorenzo Sonego (now ATP 50, best ranking 21 and Davis Cup winner in 2023), Marco Cecchinato (now 387, best ranking 15 and most importantly into the semis of the French Open beating Novak Djokovic in 2018) and even Filippo Baldi (retired at the age of 28), were by some considered more promising than Matteo. 

Always prone to injuries

What is also sure, is that since his early age, Matteo was prone to injuries. And they happened with the worst possible timing. After his first best season as a pro player in the Futures Tour, 2013, Matteo was out from February to September 2014 due to physical problems. 

Finally, two years later he plays his first final in the Challenger Tour and in 2017 he lands in the senior Tour. He doesn’t need long to win his first title, third oddity, on the alpine clay courts of Gstaad. Kind of strange for a big server, slow-mover, big guy (1,96 meter for 95 kilos) like Matteo.

He won’t be able to defend his first title on the ATP tour due to an ankle injury, but 2019 is another great year for Matteo. He wins his first grass tournament in Stuttgart and makes it into the top 10, securing a spot in the last London ball of the ATP finals.

2020 is the year everyone in the world will have tragic memories of. As for everything else, it is an awful year also for tennis of course. And one could argue that it was particularly bad for Matteo, who cannot capitalize on the good form and great record showed in 2019. Continuity is not his forte, but at least this time is not his fault.

In 2021, the world slowly, very slowly, attempts a fresh start. But as humanity falters, so does Matteo, who retires right before playing Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open due to another injury. Wintered out the injury, he comes back winning his second title in Belgrade, reaches the final in Madrid and loses to future champion in Rome, Novak Djokovic, in the quarter finals. Again, Matteo proves to have a great relationship with clay. Soon though, he’ll show that his garden is green, grass green, rather than clay red.

Berrettini runner-up at the 2021 Wimbledon

In London, at the Queen’s Club, he once again breaks Italy’s tennis records, being the first player winning a tournament on grass and one in the ATP 500 category. To make things even sweeter, he does that by taking triumph away from the local idol, the British and Londoner Cameron Norrie. What a moment for Matteo!

And thus, South he moves, full of confidence, to Wimbledon. His run is unbelievable. Ok, Pella and Bedene might not sound like impossible mountains  to climb, but after them, Matteo wipes out the tournament Van de Zandschulp, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurckaz. First Italian ever in a Wimbledon final and second ever (after Adriana Panatta in Paris, some shocking 45 years before) in a slam final of the Open Era. He loses to Novak Djokovic, but his star has never shone brighter and all the hopes of Italian tennis are on him. But everyone overlooked The Curse of The Hammer.

He withdraws from the Tokyo Olympics because of an injury. He skips the Paris Masters to focus on the ATP Finals in Turin, where he plays one game (losing to Zverev) and then retires due to another injury (and where, arguably, Jannik Sinner’s saga begins). 

In 2022, Matteo rises yet again in Sidney, where he breaks another record of Italian tennis: first player ever in history to reach the semi-final of the Australian Open, losing again to the future champion Down Under, Rafael Nadal. He climbs to his best ranking, number 6 in the world and injuries now look only like bad memories that made him strongerrrrr…ehrm, not really! He’s forced to withdraw from Miami due yet another injury, this time it’s the wrist. 

He also has to skip the whole clay season, because the wrist problem requires surgery. Never mind, the grass season is around the corner. Matteo, and the whole country of Italy, looks with great confidence and anticipation at it. 

And Matteo doesn’t betray expectations. He is champion in Stuttgart (for the second time), defeating grass super hero and knight, Sir Andy Murray. He is King in Britain, where he wins for the second time in a row at the Queen’s Club (again, no Italian player ever…etc.) and the whole country is holding their breath for the Championships. Where…he doesn’t play at all, because on the day of his debut he tested positive to Covid-19. The Curse strikes back.

Since then, it’s a true rollercoaster of positive results and new injuries: final in Gstaad again, quarter finals at the US Open, final in Naples in October, where he’s forced to anticipate the closing of his 2022 season due to a new foot injury.  

His 2023 kicks off really slow until it stops for good, this time in Monte Carlo, again for the same problem at the abdominal muscles. A couple of months later he wins three rounds in Stuttgart, but his poor physical conditions forces him out of his beloved Queen’s. Nonetheless, he does well at Wimbledon, where he loses in the fourth round to future champion Carlos Alcaraz. 

The remaining six months of the year are notable exclusively for Matteo’s separation from his lifelong coach Vincenzo Santopadre. The relationship between the two had lasted for thirteen years. Francisco Roig was announced to take over the role.

Matteo starts 2024 as number 154 in the ATP ranking and he is forced to join the Challenger Tour, where he does well, reaching the final in Phoenix. He then rejoins the senior tour and wins the ATP 250 in Marrakech, again on clay (eight title for him on this surface). That is, though, his last victory and penultimate match of the season so far. No Madrid or Barcelona, no Rome and now, no Paris. 

Will he ever be back or was it the swan song?

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