Wimbledon 2021: Super Matteo Berrettini tells all Italians: ‘Buy a big TV, Sunday's going to be crazy’

On paper, it was the Italian Hunk versus the Incredible Hurk, but guess what? Tennis isn’t played on paper any more than football and Hubert Hurkacz couldn’t get close to Matteo Berrettini’s monster serve and equally thunderous forehand.

Hurkacz deserved the “Incredible” epithet for his vanquishing of Roger Federer but the last four was the Pole’s limit and now Italy tomorrow will strive, Wembley and Wimbledon, for the most glorious of sporting doubles.

Thrilled to be the first Italian to make a SW19 final, Berrettini beamed: “It’s something crazy for us because this never happens in tennis. Nobody expected it - me in the first place. My first final here … like I say, crazy.

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“And the football … we didn’t qualify for the last World Cup so for the team, how hard they’ve worked, I think they really deserve to be in their final. It’s going to be a great day, a great sports day, and if anyone in Italy doesn’t have a nice, big TV I will tell them to buy one because I think this is going to be a special Sunday for us.”

Hubert Hurkacz grimaces as the man who bagelled Roger Federer suffers the fate himself
Hubert Hurkacz grimaces as the man who bagelled Roger Federer suffers the fate himself

Berrettini thought he played his “best match” 6-3, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4 victory over Hurkacz who was generous in his praise of his Centre Court conqueror. “Matteo played unbelievable,” he said. “Every single service game he was hitting bombs. I didn’t have many chances, basically zero. Huge congrats to him.”

The No 7 seed from Rome had to come through his own “love match” to get this far. His girlfriend is beaten women’s quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic whose cousin is Nina Ghaibi, a Croatian horsewoman who in turn steps out with Felix Auger-Aliassime, Berrettini’s previous opponent. Got it? That was a gruelling contest and Berrettini was almost apologetic in victory, presumably promising to dig out the vintage-year Chianti at the next family get-together, but there he was, one more match away from the final.

To make things more incestuous, Auger-Aliassime’s doubles partner is Hurkacz whose name makes your correspondent want to start singing “Love Cats” by the Cure. What, though, is the Pole doing for the Huberts of the world? A search of notables throws up Hubert Humphrey, the former Veep of the United States, serial killer Hubert Geralds, ’Allo ’Allo!’s Lieut Hubert Gruber and - wait for it - the man claiming to have the longest recorded name, Hubert Blaine

Wolfeschlegelsteinlausenbergerdorff.

Matteo Berrettini celebrates another forehand winner on his charge to the men's final

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Being the player who might have ended Federer’s career, bagelling him in the last set, effortlessly elevates Hurkacz onto the roll-call, but could he go even further in the tournament? He eased himself into the semi with a service game to love while Berrettini - fastest serve thus far, 139mph - opened at 133. Then Hurkacz, seemingly unflappable after those earlier heroics, saved three break points. Then Berrettini, in a tight spot on his serve because of the Pole’s liveliness at the net, simply launched a couple of missiles - air-to-ground - and the match stayed tight and compelling.

But then: the breakthrough. A thrilling rally, won by Berrettini by running after, and round, a lob to get onto his killing forehand was the key point. For good measure he broke Hurkacz again to clinch the opening set. Suddenly, from having started so brightly, the Pole his way. A horrible game where nothing worked gave Berrettini an early break in the second set. The man who looks a bit like a bank manager was now playing like one. Berrettini was on a roll, Hurkacz was in a hole.

At 0-4, though, he managed to find himself on break point. What did Berrettini do? Launch another jet-propelled ace, and there would be 22 of them by the end. Some of Hurkacz’s shots were so wayward they seemed to be on their way home to Poland. The spry movement from the Federer win had gone; now he was leaden-footed. Head slumped, squeezing his brow had become his default pose. More mishits, and the bageller found himself bagelled.

Berrettini is leading a pack of Italian players into prominence in the men’s game - Jannik Sinner and the two Lorenzos, Musetti and Sonego among them - and striving to push further into history the achievements of Adriano Panatta, a French Open winner in the 1970s whose appearances at Wimbledon would always prompt dear old Dan Maskell to remark that service would be slow at London’s trattorias because all the waiters were at SW19, cheering on their favourite.

In the third set Hurkacz at least won a game, prompting huge roars. Wimbledon is not the Colosseum; they don’t like bloody slayings. He held his serve again but struggled to do anything when Berrettini was striving to top that 139mph.

Just as impressive as the serve was the forehand. Power, whip, accuracy and flirtation with the net. Hurkacz couldn’t stop that shot either but at least he was putting some respectability on the scoreboard, keeping Berrettini close all the way to a tie-break. Hurkacz pounced on its first point and thereafter Berrettini made the wrong choices. Two sets to one - game on.

Well, at least until Hurkacz lost his serve right away in the fourth. He had plenty of support from the Polish expat community including the fan waving a home-made banner reading “Hur-cules”. But while it had been a herculean effort to slow down the Berrettini bombardment, maybe that’s all he could offer. He needed to break back but Berrettini wasn’t disposed to offer that kind of hospitality, never mind the best Chianti. A great day for Italy, and on Adriano Panatta’s 71st birthday as well. Tomorrow could be even more special.

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