Matteo Berrettini, the Roman gladiator in the assault of Rafael Nadal

Matteo Berrettini after his victory against Gael Monfils on September 4 on the court Arthur-Ashe. Danielle Parhizkaran / USA TODAY Sports

Always listen to Richard Gasquet. Author of an American season on a hard-hitting run through a semi-final in Cincinnati on August 17, the Frenchman took the gateway to the US Open, beaten in four sets by Italy's Matteo Berrettini (25e), which is measured Friday, September 6 to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. To speak of his executioner, the choice of words is, as always with Gasquet, rudimentary, but he has the advantage of going to the essential.

"Well, he plays well, very well. He served really very, very hard. In forehand, he can put you very far from the ball. He knows how to play, he knows how to go to the net, he's good volleyball, he summed up after his defeat. He is a very good tennis player, he will be in the Top 10. Only with his huge service and his big forehand, it hurts. He pushed me. "

Wednesday, it was Gael Monfils to be in turn knocked out, drunk by the Roman. The French number one was beaten on the wire in the tie-break of the 5the set (3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6) after a match on alternating current, like all his career, between flamboyance and moments of absence.

Off-road puncher

Despite a third-line rugby stencil (1.96 m, 90 kg) and his young age (23 years), the Italian is a complete player with the profile of puncher. A service of lead, a right shot as dazzling as devastating and a game to the economy: few snowshoeing but generally felt well. "When he is in a position, on his supports, he can strike his forehand in all directions without being able to read it, told the Australian Alexei Popyrin after his loss to the Italian in the 3e tower. And even when his ball came in the middle of the court, I could not attack it, it was so heavy. "

In the round of 16, the Italian disgusted Andrey Rublev, young Russian (21 years old) with long teeth, who thought he could get him in the strong power sector of his … 65 kg. However, it would be wrong to reduce Berrettini to an insensitive brute. For a quasi-double meter, the guy is rather mobile and not bad at the net. Only his two-handed backhand sins a bit but he found the parade: a slice he built for himself late at 17, after successive injuries to his wrist.

Like any good Italian, Berrettini has been bathed in clay. "And then the coach said" we need to improve on fast surfaces ", so I played a lot of Futures circuit tournaments (the third division) in 2015. I played 70% of my games on hard. It was an investment on my career. " Which probably explains why her hatch was a little slower than for others. But given his New York course, the bet is paying off.

This season, he proved his versatility: on land (title in Budapest, final in Munich), on turf (title in Stuttgart, semifinal in Halle, eighth in Wimbledon, beaten by Roger Federer) and now on hard in Flushing Meadows . Offered as a bonus several Top 10: Alexander Zverev in Rome, Karen Khachanov in Halle and Stuttgart.

" Last year, I was not focused enough on tennis, he thought these days. It was not my game, the problem. Of course, I progressed, because I discovered new things almost every week, but it's mostly on the mental plane that I changed. That's why I think I would never have won against Popyrin last season. "

In the footsteps of Corrado Barazzutti?

Faced with Monfils, he could have flinched after spoiling a match point by committing a double foul at 5-3 in the last set and then letting two others slip on the opposing side at 6-5. It may be this US Open that will change its status. Still 135e January 2018, it briefly broke the ceiling of the Top 20 in June and is already guaranteed to be at least 13e on Monday.

An Italian in the semifinal in New York, the performance is unprecedented for transalpine tennis for over forty years. The last was Corrado Barazzutti in 1977 on the green clay of Forest Hills. Said Barazzutti is today his Davis Cup captain. " We talk every day together, it helps me a lot "Berrettini said after his victory against Andrey Rublev in the round of 16.

He also trades regularly, including during this US Open, with Adriano Panatta, the only Italian Grand Slam winner (men) in the Open era, in 1976 at Roland Garros, the only one to beat Björn Borg in Paris.

Italian men's tennis had not seen such an improvement since the late 1970s. Last year, Marco Cecchinato was the surprise guest of the semifinals at Roland Garros even though he has been very discreet since . This season, Fabio Fognini won his first Masters 1000 (in Monte Carlo) and broke into the Top 10. Berrettini is the anti-Fognini. Boss, applied and wise on the court. Sometimes maybe a bit too much, according to his coach. In front of the Mallorcan warrior Friday, the Roman will have to play the gladiators if he wants to dust off the history of Italian tennis.

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