Matteo Berrettini said he was “dreaming” after edging Gael Monfils in a thrilling five-set tussle Wednesday to become the first Italian to reach the men’s US Open semi-finals since 1977.
The 23-year-old Berrettini displayed impressive poise and resilience after fluffing four match points to outlast 13th-seeded Frenchman Monfils 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) in three hours and 57 minutes.
He became just the second Italian man to make the last four in New York after Corrado Barazzutti 42 years ago, and is only the fourth in the Open era to advance to a Grand Slam semi-final – joining 1976 Roland Garros champion Adriano Panatta and Marco Cecchinato.
“It’s tough to focus right now. Just too many things coming in my mind,” said Berrettini, who could face 18-time major champion Rafael Nadal for a place in Sunday’s final at Flushing Meadows.
“I received, like, thousands of messages. I was dreaming about this when I was a child. So now I’m doing that. Like I said the past days, I have to enjoy what I’m doing, but I have to look forward what to do what I want to do.”
Berrettini wrestled with his emotions as he blew a 5-2 lead in the final set, but expressed his pride at coming out on top after a protracted struggle.
“Do you think you can practice these kind of feelings? I was saying to myself during the match, ‘What do you expect? – I mean, you’re 23. Just playing your first quarter-finals and you expect that you not get tight?’ So I was saying to myself, ‘OK, that’s normal. Keep going. You know you’re going to have more chances like I had.’”
Berrettini doubled-faulted on his first match point at 5-3 before a resolute Monfils fought off two more on his serve three games later to send the deciding set into a tie-break.
‘Unbelievable’ Ashe atmosphere
Monfils, though, coughed up a costly pair of double faults in the breaker as Berrettini surged 5-2 ahead, the Frenchman rescuing a fourth match point before a booming serve from the Italian clinched a memorable win.
“In that moment if you start to think about other stuff that are not important, you start to complain, you start to think negative, then for sure you’re going to lose the match,” Berrettini said. “That’s the thing that I’m most proud of, you know. That’s what I learned.”
Berrettini spoke passionately about his love for the game and how he embraces the more mundane aspects of the profession.
“I said, ‘This is going to be my job. This is going to be my passion.’ I choose that because I love that, I am loving that. I am loving this sport. I’m trying to enjoy every practice even if it’s bad,” Berrettini said.
He was also left in awe of his first experience of Arthur Ashe Stadium. “This stadium is unbelievable. The feelings I had – I was checking my heart beating during the match. I was, like, ‘Oh, what’s happening?’ Then I said, ‘OK, it’s normal. This is a football stadium. It’s not like a tennis stadium.’”
Awaiting Berrettini, the 24th seed, in Friday’s semi-finals will be three-time US Open champion Nadal or 21st-ranked Argentine Diego Schwartzman, a player he took out in five sets during his run to the last 16 at Wimbledon in July.
Having come this far, Berrettini now has his sights fixed on emulating Panatta and Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1959 and 1960 winner of the French Championship, as well as 2015 women’s US Open titlist Flavia Pennetta.
“Why not? I’m in semis,” he said. “Why not? I’m going, trying to keep going, and I’m dreaming, as well. Why not?”