The Hammer Steals Greek God’s Thunder in Sudden Death Epic

Italian Matteo Berrettini, The Hammer, became the first champion of UTS after he beat The Greek God, Stefanos Tsitsipas in a thrilling sudden-death encounter on Sunday, a fitting finale to the revolutionary format.

Nickname: The Hammer Record: 7-3 (champion at UTS1) Why he mattered to UTS: The Italian is the first champion in the event’s history.

The Hammer won the first two sets, coming from behind in both, but Tsitsipas then produced a stunning fightback to pinch the third before running away with the fourth to force sudden death.

Tsitsipas had recovered from two quarters down to beat Berrettini in sudden death in the group stages but the Italian held his nerve brilliantly, saving two match points to take it and clinch a dramatic 16-15, 15-12, 12-14, 8-15, 3-2 victory, thumping a forehand winner crosscourt to clinch the title.

“When he hit the approach I thought, I really hope he hits to the forehand,” Berrettini said. “I just closed my eyes and hit a winner.”

Berrettini’s use of the winner x 3 cards was part of the reason for his triumph, especially in the first quarter when back to back winners got him back into contention.

“I guess that was the secret, serving well on the important moments. I think this format is going to help me going forward, you have to be there for every point.”

UTS cards crucial again

Tsitsipas beat Berrettini from two quarters down in the group stage and the Greek God began strongly while Berrettini was annoyed at a couple of line calls he felt went against him.

The world No 6 led 5-1 and then 9-5 but as he did in his semi-final win over Richard Gasquet, Berrettini used the winner x 3 card to stunning effect: first putting a forehand volley away and then hammering an ace to turn a 9-5 deficit into an 11-9 lead. The rest of the quarter remained close but with 27 seconds to go, Berrettini took his time on what turned out to be the deciding point and he won it when Tsitsipas put a forehand pass just wide.

Berrettini sounded tired at the change of ends, saying: “Mamma mia. It’s a long match, let’s see in the next quarter.”

Tsitsipas was calm, content with how he was playing, if not the result.

“It was very close,” he said. “It was all on details. I just need to hold tight in there. It’s going to come, just patience, persistence. I need to keep my calm. I have to feel spiritual today with myself.”

Italian recovers again

Berrettini threw in a double fault early in the second quarter and Tsitsipas pulled away to a 6-2 lead, which he then extended to 10-4.

But again, the winner x 3 card proved crucial as the Italian fired a big serve on the first one and then an ace on the second to cut the deficit to 10-8. Stealing the serve, Berrettini then levelled at 10-10, at which time Apostolos Tsitsipas called a coaching timeout for his son.

“Stef, all good, you also have (winner) counts 3, try to be attacking, attack more, and make him move, left and right. Use the card, and if you make a first serve, come in, let’s go.”

But it didn’t work out as he lost one of the two points, handing the momentum to Berrettini. At 13-11 down, Tsitsipas still had time but missed a backhand long and that was that.

“I love it when it’s working for me, I don’t really love it when it’s working against me,” Berrettini said of the winner x 3 card, before offering a reminder of their group match.“ Last time I played him it was the same score (2-0), so I have to be focused, think about point after point.”

Tsitsipas was understandably disappointed.

“Yeah, it’s a big bummer,” he said. “He served well (on the winner x 3), you can’t really do anything. I was up in the score all the time by a big margin.”

Asked if he could repeat the heroics of his group match against Berrettini, when he won in sudden death

“That would be a miracle,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. It would be incredible, I really hope for the best.”

Tsitsipas fights back

When Berrettini led 4-0 in the third quarter, it looked like he might run away with it but Tsitsipas went for his winner x 3 card and it paid off with a stunning second serve ace to get back into it. The momentum was with Tsitsipas and he led 8-6 and then 11-8, winning one of Berrettini’s two points with the winner x 3 card to take control. Again the Italian hit back and at 12-12, with one minute left, he had the advantage.

But Tsitsipas came up with a brilliant backhand pass to snatch a 13-12 lead and then, on the last point, Berrettini double-faulted to hand The Greek God a lifeline.

“Let’s keep it going,” he said. “It feels great, it feels phenomenal. I have faith in me, I’m just trying to be me. I’m trying to play reckless and forget about feelings. It’s all about toughness.”

History repeats itself

Berrettini looked a little rattled at the start of the fourth, asking Apostolos politely to “please stop talking between first and second points” and Tsitsipas took advantage, going up 6-2 before Vincenzo Santopadre called a timeout.

“I wanted to break up his rhythm a little,” the Italian said of Tsitsipas. “I think use your winner x 3 card here. Make your presence felt on court.”

But for once it didn’t work as Tsitsipas won both points and the Greek God then used his steal serve card, winning six points in a row to storm clear.

Apostolos pressed the buzzer for a coaching timeout with Tsitsipas leading 12-6, with one minute, 35 minutes remaining, still feeding him with instructions. “Be aggressive,” he said. The Greek God finished off the quarter with ease.

“I’m very close to that (miracle),” he said, before discussing his four wins out of four in sudden death in the group stages. “The Gods were with me,” he said.

Berrettini admitted he was thinking back to their battle in the group stages. “I have a lot of thoughts but I just have to enjoy this moment. It’s been an amazing five weeks.”

Drama at the end

Sudden death could not have been more tense. Tsitsipas began with an ace to earn match point but Berrettini won the next point with a good forehand. The Greek God led again, 2-1, and on the fourth point, he had a golden chance to seal it, only to frame a forehand pass, allowing the Italian, sticking out a long arm, to put a volley away.

That gave Berrettini a second match point and he chose a fitting way to finish a stunning competition as he hammered a forehand crosscourt to clinch the title.

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