Matteo Berrettini beat Cameron Norrie in three sets in the Queen's final
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Until Sunday, it had been 36 years since a player won Queen’s at the first time of asking. That man was Boris Becker, only 17 at the time, who went on to create arguably the greatest Wimbledon story of all just three weeks later.
Italy’s Matteo Berrettini – who equalled Becker’s feat – can hardly be called a prodigy. He turned 25 in April, and was still toiling away on the second-tier Challenger circuit until relatively recently. But he can match Becker on at least one front: a blood-curdling serve, which must have left his British opponent Cameron Norrie fearing for his safety.
Boom-boom Berrettini sent down 19 aces on Sunday, taking his tally for the week to 58. The only man to break him was an old foe from Italian Challenger events – Stefano Travaglia – in the opening round.
Once he found his range with that musclebound right arm, his opponents were often reduced to statues as the ball rocketed past them and into the backboard. One mighty blow on Sunday clocked 143mph on the speed-gun. Even though the ball failed to find the service box, there were anxious titters from the crowd as it narrowly failed to decapitate a line judge.
“It was ‘take-the-racket-out-of-your-hand’ kind of stuff,” admitted Norrie after his 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 defeat. “It was similar to [Milos] Raonic’s kind of level for me. The couple times I have played Raonic, I didn’t really get a chance at all. Yeah, [Berrettini’s] service games were rolling by very quickly.”
Is it possible that Berrettini could emulate Becker for a second time by going on to add the Wimbledon title to his collection? He was asked about the possibility of an Italian double on June 11: collecting the Gentleman’s Singles Trophy while his footballing compatriots win the Euros trophy at Wembley.
His response was to laugh and reply: “I really hope so. For me and for my country in general, I think it would be such an historic day.”
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Is this a pipe dream? Well, Berrettini will be the eighth seed at Wimbledon, and now stands in fifth place on the list of bookmakers’ favourites. “I couldn’t think of anything better than this [winning Queen’s] for going into Wimby,” he said
Admittedly, Novak Djokovic feels like he could win the event blindfolded, such was the bewildering level of tennis he delivered in Paris 10 days ago. But it’s worth noting that Berrettini gave Djokovic a few scares in their quarter-final, and that his monster serve is far more dangerous on grass courts than on the clay of Roland Garros.
Having wrapped up that quarter-final in four sets, Djokovic celebrated with a guttural and eye-bulging roar in the direction of his coaches, which showed how worried he had been.
The Amazon Prime pundit Greg Rusedski was among those talking up Berrettini’s prospects. “He served out of a tree,” said Rusedski. “The Italian stallion as I call him, he looks like the man going into Wimbledon. Yes, Djokovic is still the favourite but you have to put his [Berrettini’s] name down all of a sudden as someone who can go deep and possibly win it.”
For Norrie, meanwhile, this was a third runner-up spot on the ATP Tour in the space of seven weeks. He played a magnificent tie-break to snatch the second set, winning all six of his own service points.
But Berrettini was smart in the way he played hyper-aggressive in his return games – a tactic used by Pete Sampras in the 1990s – and came up with a couple of breaks as well as plenty of wild misses. The whole thing felt like a flashback to the big-serving days of Becker, Kevin Curran and Slobodan Zivojinovic.