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Berrettini, bossing the biggest points, survives the comeback bid of talented teen Alcaraz

The highly anticipated battle between Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz lived up the hype, with the Italian edging out a dramatic victory on Day 5

Matteo Berrettini Australian Open Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 19, 2022 Italy’s Matteo Berrettini during his second round match against Stefan Kozlov of the U.S. || 218292_0409

Australian Open 2022 | Draw Order of play | Third round

Every die-hard tennis fan had their eyes on a potential third-round matchup between Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz at the Australian Open the minute the draw came out last Thursday. Just over a week later tennis fans were treated a glimpse into the future of a budding rivalry as the Italian and the Spaniard locked horns in an epic four hour and 10-minute duel that needed a match tiebreak to decide it.

It was seventh-seeded Berrettini, last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, who found a way to get over the finish line after spending the better part of the final three sets with Alcaraz breathing down his neck. The Italian played a flawless tiebreaker and closed out his 6-2, 7-6(3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6(5) victory to book a spot in the round of 16, where Pablo Carreno Busta, the No 19 seed, will be waiting.

After a warm handshake at the net, Berrettini could only praise the 18-year-old from El Palmar, Spain for playing at such a high level at such a young age.

Berrettini on Alcaraz: “He’s unbelievable”

“He’s unbelievable. At his age I didn’t even have an ATP point,” Berrettini said of the No 31 seed. “He’s impressive. He can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everyone today his potential – luckily today I won, but congrats to him.”

Alcaraz was bidding to become the youngest player to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open since Rafael Nadal in 2005, and he battled valiantly against the hard-hitting Italian to rally from a two sets to love deficit and put himself on the brink of a major upset.

He’s unbelievable. At his age I didn’t even have an ATP point.

Matteo Berrettini about Carlos Alcaraz

But just when it looked like Berrettini might falter, the 25-year-old demonstrated his big match pedigree and imposed himself in a final set that was tense from start to finish.

Both players had looks at break points early in the fifth set, Alcaraz with Berrettini serving at 1-1 ad out and Berrettini with Alcaraz serving at 1-2, 30-40. Once that turbulence was cleared the server held sway until Alcaraz coughed up an uncharacteristic error to give Berrettini his first match point 5-6, 30-40. The Spaniard was up to the task, but he couldn’t produce elevated tennis in the tiebreak as Berrettini hammered away and eventually stretched his lead from 6-5 to 9-5.

On the final point of the match Alcaraz tossed in his eight double-fault – an anticlimactic ending to a contest that thrilled in every other way.

Berrettini at 2022 Australian Open: exceeding expectations, and changing the narrative

Many experts tabbed the rising Alcaraz for the upset but Berrettini has once again proved his mettle at the Grand Slams by finding a way to victory. The Italian improved to 5-1 lifetime in five-setters, and he has not lost to any player other than Novak Djokovic (or his own body – more on this later) at the Grand Slams since he bowed out to Daniel Altmaier at Roland-Garros in 2020.

Since that loss to Altmaier, Berrettini has gone 19-0 at the majors to players not named Djokovic. Unfortunately for the Italian he faced Djokovic three times at the majors last season, and fell in four sets each time. With Djokovic out of the draw due to his highly publicized deportation, the focus now turns to Berrettini’s “other worst enemy” – his body.

Injuries have plagued the Italian in the past, and one may have cropped up today

There was silence inside Rod Laver Arena after Berrettini rolled his ankle in the second game of the final set. He lay on his back, stunned, as his opponent came over to see that he was okay. Eventually Berrettini made his way over to his chair, and had the trainer look at his right ankle. He was not bothered by the injury the rest of the match.

The Italian’s hopes of continuing on his path in Melbourne hinge on the recovery of his ankle, and his ability to be physically fresh for the second week.

Staying healthy has always been a difficult challenge for Berrettini. He was forced to give Stefanos Tsitsipas a walkover to the quarter-finals last year at the Australian Open due to an abdominal injury, and that injury plagued Berrettini again in the second half of the season as he finished his season in tears, walking off the court in Turin after being forced to abandon his spot in the Nitto ATP Finals draw.

With Djokovic no longer looming in the draw, Berrettini has a shot for a deep run and maybe even a longshot at a title in Melbourne next week, but he’ll have to be in great shape to do it. The fact that he has already spent nine hours and 58 minutes on court in three matches does not bode well for him.

Seeds who won on Friday (3rd round): Zverev (3), Berrettini (7), Shapovalov (14), Monfils (17), Carreno Busta (19)

Seeds already out: Hurkacz (10), Norrie (12), Schwartzman (13), Garin (16), Basilashvili (21), Isner (22), Opelka (23) Sonego (25), Dimitrov (26), Humbert (29), Harris (30)

Seeds who lost on Friday (3rd round): Garin (16), Opelka (23)

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