Jannik Sinner outplays and outfoxes Berrettini to reach third round | Wimbledon

Matteo Berrettini’s run through the Wimbledon draw to his maiden grand slam final in 2021 felt like a significant moment. Even though he lost to Novak Djokovic in the decisive match, Berrettini had already established himself as one Italy’s finest tennis players. After his defeat, Berrettini travelled straight from Wimbledon to Wembley where spent that night and the following days toasting to his success with the Italian team that had conquered Euro 2020.

Three years later, Berrettini’s success is a distant memory, a consequence of injuries, miserable luck and the flourishing greatness of his brilliant opponent on Centre Court. Jannik Sinner, who became the first ever Italian ATP No 1 last month, has since taken tennis in their country to unprecedented heights and on Wednesday afternoon, he reinforced the new status quo in a tense, high-quality tussle by producing three flawless tie-breaks under pressure to defeat Berrettini 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (4) and reach the third round.

“We are very good friends, we play Davis Cup together, sometimes we practise together,” Sinner said afterwards. “It’s obviously very, very tough that we had to play each other in such an important tournament. Today was a very high level match, I thought we both played really well. In three tie-breaks, I got sometimes a bit lucky, but I take it for today.”

Since becoming the first Italian man to reach a grand slam final since Adriano Panatta in 1976 and rising as high as No 6 in the ATP rankings, the past three seasons of Berrettini’s career have been ravaged by injuries and he fell as low as No 154 this year. While Berrettini fell out of relevance, Sinner has grown to become the best player in the world. This week marks his first grand slam tournament as the world no 1. Still, he continues to take his success in his stride.

Unseeded and vulnerable, Berrettini’s brutal draw was also an extremely difficult challenge for Sinner. With his massive serve and forehand complemented by his wicked backhand slice and the unusual feel around the court, Berrettini has become one of the best grass-court players over the past few years.

Matteo Berrettini was kept on the run most of the night by Jannik Sinner. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images

Both players entered Centre Court serving extremely well and frantically looking to take the first strike with their forehands. The first set tie-break, however, underlined the many more options that Sinner has in his game. His far greater defence, return of serve and backhand marked the difference between them as he locked down his game and continuously drew out unforced errors from Berrettini to take a comfortable tie-break.

But after such a high-quality set, Berrettini’s confidence grew. He continued to eviscerate forehands and he frustrated Sinner with his backhand slice, which skidded low on the grass. It was Berrettini who took the first break of the match, establishing a 4-2 second-set lead.

But in the decisive moments, Sinner again just had more margin and possibilities in his game. After retrieving the break, he opened the tie-break with a devastating backhand down-the-line winner and it set the tone as he dominated from inside the baseline, suffocating Berrettini’s backhand and taking a two-set lead.

After two assets of supreme focus, Sinner’s level finally dropped at the beginning of the third set and the No 1 completely lost timing in his forehand. Berrettini continued to serve incredibly well, shutting Sinner out of his service games and drawing errors with his slice as the match shifted. The 28-year-old rolled through the third set and broke for a 2-1 lead in the fourth set.

Still, Sinner did not panic. He returned brilliantly to immediately retrieve the break and as he rolled through his own service games, the pressure on Berrettini’s shoulders grew. Down match point at 5-6, 40-advantage though, Berrettini responded by spectacularly recovering to hold serve with an unreturned serve, an ace and a forehand winner in quick succession. Once again, Sinner saved his best tennis for the most decisive moments, his brilliant return of serve the difference between them as he closed out an excellent battle late on Wednesday night.

“I knew that I had to raise my level today if I wanted to play against him,” he said. “He played final here, he is a grass-court specialist. I was looking forward to it. It was a challenge for me to come on the court. I was very happy with how I handled the situation.”

Having been dealt a difficult hand so early in the tournament, Sinner left Centre Court emboldened by how he managed the challenging moments against an excellent player. He is moving better on grass than ever before, he is physically strong after his recent hip issues and, most of all, he looks determined to add to his grand slam count as soon as possible.

After the defending champion Carlos Alcaraz had booked his place in the third round, he was told immediately afterwards that his next opponent, Frances Tiafoe, said he’s “coming after you”.

Alcaraz just smiled. “I’m going for him,” he said. The Alcaraz smile has become almost as famous as his forehand, a feature of his exhilarating run to the title here last year. On Wednesday, the Spaniard improved as the match went on to see off Aleksandar Vukic 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-2.

Ranked 69, the Australian made life uncomfortable for Alcaraz and served for the first set but could not close it out. That was his last chance as the French Open champion won the tie-break, before pulling away to set up his third-round meeting with Tiafoe.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz was not pushed much after the first set against his Australian opponent. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters

“We played a really good match at the US Open,” Alcaraz said of the American. “I know he’s a really talented player, a top one on grass. It’s going to be a really difficult match but I’m ready to take that challenge, play a high level of tennis and hopefully take him.”

The fifth seed, Daniil Medvedev, was being pushed so hard by the Frenchman Alexandre Müller in their second-round match that he completely lost track of the score.

After losing a point to trail 6-3 in a tie-break, the Russian sat down on his chair thinking he had already lost the opening set to his 102nd-ranked opponent. He was then informed by the umpire that he was actually still alive in the first set and he returned to the baseline, only to lose the next point anyway and fall behind.

Despite losing that tie-break it all turned out OK for Medvedev as he hit back to reach the third round by winning the next three sets.

“I thought it was 6-4 [not 5-3], I went a little crazy,” the 28-year-old said. “I thought the set was gone. I heard the referee talking to me. At one moment I start hearing: ‘Daniil, it’s 6-3.’ I’m like: ‘What are you talking about? Then I see the score. Don’t know if it ever happened to me before. Thought it was pretty funny.”

Casper Ruud, seeded eight, was beaten in four sets by Fabio Fognini. The Norwegian, who has only recently recovered from the after-effects of a parasite-related illness, hit back from 5-2 down in the third set to extend the match but Fognini held on to win 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (1), 6-3.

First appeared on www.theguardian.com

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