Wimbledon 2021: Matteo Berrettini defeats Hubert Hurkacz to reach Wimbledon final

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In a semi-final where two thunderous first serves were supposed to offer only a sliver of light, Matteo Berrettini’s brutal artistry lifted him to a height no Italian player has ever touched. On the same Sunday the Azzurri take to Wembley, the country will have its first ever Wimbledon finalist and, on the basis of this merciless evidence, Berrettini’s challenge will prove anything but bluster.

That much is a testament largely to the Queen’s Club champion’s imperious serving. Regularly tipping 130mph on the speedometer, Hurkacz, who had stunned Roger Federer in straight sets in the previous round, simply had no answer for such unforgiving and precise power. In his 6-3 6-0 6-7 (3) 6-4 win, Berrettini delivered 21 blistering aces and conceded just two break points. When those rare chinks in his armour were exposed, inevitably another bludgeoning serve stamped out the danger.

In a period of almost karmic revenge on Centre Court, after Hurkacz had whitewashed Federer in the third set on Wednesday, Berrettini won 11 games in succession and threatened to reduce this semi-final to a procession. The Pole had been utterly nerveless up until now and, eventually, he was able to rediscover that vein of form and banish the angst that had infiltrated his right arm. A display of almighty resolve saw him clinch a third-set tiebreak to stay in the match and bring sympathy to the scoreline, but in the face of such a relentless storm of strength, his efforts always felt in vain.

“Thank you, I have no words, really, thanks and I need a couple of hours to understand what happened. I played a great match, I enjoyed the crowd, my family and whole team are there. I think I never dreamed about this because it was too much for a dream. I am so happy,” Berrettini said afterwards.

“When you play at this level everything has to be... I am trying to be the best at everything... but after the third set I was feeling I deserved to win it but lost it. I said, ‘it doesn’t matter’, I was feeling the stronger player and that’s what I said to myself and eventually it paid off.”

It had always been clear that this semi-final would ride on the strength and consistency of two towering serves. That forecast was proved correct immediately as Hurkacz opened the match with a menacing scythe, promptly held to love, and watched helplessly as Berrettini did the same. It made for a war of nerve and attrition and the question remained over whose arch-weapon would waver first. The forebear came as early as the fourth game, when Berrettini showed his superiority in the rallies, seizing on rising balls early to force Hurkacz onto his heels. Three break points promised the first blood in the match, but the 14th seed rallied excellently to hold, leaping into a spectacular smash from almost behind the baseline.

Hurkacz, who seemed to have inherited the crowd’s affection from Federer, summoned the strength to hold, but it wasn’t long before his resistance began to crumble. With so much wind in his sails, Berrettini did not so much as parry Hurkacz’s next smash but swat it ruthlessly cross court and beckoned at the crowd with a roaring wave. Soon, the tide was crashing over Hurkacz as Berrettini proved he is far more than just a slugger, relying on an unremitting series of skidding backhand slices and showed wonderful artifice, too, with an exquisite drop shot. Overpowered and outwitted, Hurkacz succumbed to a streak of uncharacteristic and unforced errors. Berrettini broke, clinched the set, and threatened never to look back.

It almost verged on a walkover as Hurkacz stared into an uncomfortable abyss when 11 consecutive games reduced him to a virtual bystander in the match. Berrettini snarled and showed no sympathy, delivering another hail of unreturnable serves before battering forehands into the corners with adrenaline-induced devilment. Never affording Hurkacz a hint of relief from the stranglehold, he won 92 per cent of points on his first serve as he closed the second set to love. Perhaps, that fact should come as no surprise. By this match’s end, Berrettini would have over 100 aces for the tournament and has now lost just seven of his 157 service games this year.

For all that Berrettini’s serving was brilliant, Hurkacz had been deserted by his own lethal weapon, his accuracy plummetting in the first two sets. But just as he seemed to have been drained of hope, the 24-year-old showed the mettle that had taken him to the semi-finals for the first time in his career. The third set became the epitome of what had been predicted, with neither player affording the other a semblance of hope. Even when the threat of defeat inched closer, with Hurkacz serving to stay in the match, he summoned smiting shots to extinguish any danger. And, for the first time in the match, as Berrettini became frustrated looking for a fatal blow, the pendulum swung ever so slightly in Hurkacz’s favour. He seized on the shift of momentum immediately and surged into an insurmountable lead in the tiebreak.

But the promise of a thrilling comeback was short-lived. Berrettini left the court to recompose himself and returned with renewed vigour, breaking immediately at the start of the fourth with a series of heavy forehand winners. And when blessed with a serve that swings with the weight of a small boulder, that was all Berrettini needed to disintegrate Hurkacz’s defence once as for all. Another avalanche of aces crashed down and Italy were left with two hopes of sporting history on Sunday.

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