Such is the nature of tennis that different generations regularly clash and Friday’s second semi-final at the US Open is no different, when Rafael Nadal meets Matteo Berrettini for the first time under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Nadal, who won his first ATP Tour match as a 15-year-old in his hometown of Mallorca in 2002, has been a long-term inspiration to Berrettini, who, at 23 years of age, contests his first Grand Slam championship semi-final at Flushing Meadows.
After his epic quarter-final win over Gael Monfils on Thursday, Berrettini recalled watching Nadal beat Guillermo Coria in the 2005 Internazionali BNL d’Italia final, as an eight-year-old, because one of the sport’s greatest clay-court matches happened to be on a television channel that normally screened cartoons.
“I remember the final in Rome against Coria,” remembered Berrettini. “It was on a channel that was about cartoons. I was young. ‘These guys, I mean, six hours. Come on! I want to catch my cartoons’. I remember that it was unbelievable.
“I think also, I was going to school and a lot of my classmates, they actually started to follow tennis more, to watch tennis more because the match was free. They were, ‘Oh, you’re playing this sport then?’ I was, like, ‘Yeah. I’m dreaming about playing these matches.’ And now I’m here. So I’m happy.”
The 2005 Rome final came a few weeks before Nadal’s life changed forever with his first major championship crown at Roland Garros. Fast forward 14 years and the Spaniard has won 18 Grand Slam championship trophies, and Friday’s match against Berrettini will be Nadal’s 33rd major semi-final (26-6 record).
Looking ahead to meeting the Italian, Nadal said, “Berrettini is having a great year. He’s in the semi-finals, winning a lot of good matches… I need to play my best, and I think today [against Diego Schwartzman] I took a step forward.”
With a crushing forehand (111 winners) and big serve (66 aces in five matches), Berrettini can match Nadal’s firepower on Friday, so may be able to dictate, but recovering from his draining four-hour win over Monfils – the biggest Grand Slam win of his career – could be a determining factor.
Berrettini has spent 15 hours and 23 minutes on court in five victories at the US Open, while Nadal has played four matches totalling nine hours and 43 minutes. He got a walkover against Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round.
Berrettini, who lost to Denis Kudla in the 2018 US Open first round, has enjoyed a stellar season, which includes two ATP Tour crowns at the Hungarian Open in Budapest (d. Krajinovic) and at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart (d. Auger-Aliassime). He also finished runner-up at the BMW Open by FWU in Munich (l. to Garin) and has a 34-15 match record this season.
As a result of his US Open performance, Berrettini has jumped from 14th to ninth position in the 2019 ATP Race To London for a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 10-17 November.
More About Berrettini
Quarter-final Match Report: Berrettini Beats Monfils In Fifth Set Epic
Feature: What Has Inspired Matteo To His 2019 Surge?
Over the past 10 days, Nadal, who in July became the first player to clinch a spot at this year’s elite season finale, remains on course to add to his 2010, 2013, 2017 US Open titles haul and further improve his chances of finishing year-end No. 1 for a fifth time.
The 33-year-old Spaniard has a 45-6 match record in 2019, which includes a record-extending 12th title at Roland Garros (d. Thiem), plus two ATP Masters 1000 crowns in Rome (his ninth) and the Coupe Rogers In Montreal. He also finished runner-up at the Australian Open (l. to Djokovic) at the start of the year.
Big-match experience may be the deciding factor on Friday night, but Berrettini will be sure to do his best against Nadal, a player he considers “the greatest fighter ever in this sport. It’s unbelievable [what] he’s doing. I admire him, the way he’s on the court. His attitude is something that, I think, it’s close to the perfection.”
More About Nadal
Feature: Rapid Rafa – Serve, Play & Win Faster
Quarter-final Match Report: Nadal Battles Past Schwartzman
Quarter-final Reaction: How Does Nadal Describe His Fighting Spirit?
A CLOSER LOOK AT BERRETTINI vs. NADAL (Stats Through US Open QFs)
M. BERRETTINI (24)
R. NADAL (2)
1st Serve %
1st Serve Points
2nd Serve Points
Break Points Faced
Service Games Held
Average 1st Serve
Average 2nd Serve
Returns in Play
1st Return Points Won
2nd Return Points Won
Breaks of Serve
Return Games Played
Return Games Won %
Forehand Unforced Errors
Backhand Unforced Errors
Winners at Net
Total Unforced Errors
98 of 135
Net Points Won
38 of 48
Net Points Won
Baseline Points Won
Time on Court
Statistics courtesy: Leo Levin/SMT
Source: ATP World Tour