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Italy’s Berrettini reaches first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon

Day Eleven: The Championships - Wimbledon 2021

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Mateo Berrettini of Italy celebrates during his match against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in the gentlemen’s semi-finals during Day Eleven of The Championships - Wimbledon 2021 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 09, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

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WIMBLEDON, England - Cries of “Vai!” (Go!), “Forza!” (Let’s go!) and even “Andiamo, amore mio!” (Let’s go, my love!) rang through Centre Court, supporting Matteo Berrettini in his native tongue on his way to becoming Italy’s first Grand Slam finalist in 45 years.

With booming serves delivering 22 aces, and powerful forehands helping compile a total of 60 winners, the No. 7-seeded Berrettini used an 11-game run to grab a big lead and then held on to beat No. 14 Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-4 at Wimbledon on Friday.

“I have no words. Really. Just, `Thanks.’ And I need, I think, a couple of hours to understand what happened,” Berrettini told the capacity crowd. “I just know I played a great match. .... I never dreamed about this because it was too much, even for a dream.”

On Sunday, he will go up against either No. 1 Novak Djokovic, a 19-time major champion, or No. 10 Denis Shapovalov, a first-time Slam semifinalist.

Berrettini has created quite a sporting Sunday in London for Italy. After he plays in the Wimbledon final that afternoon - the first for a man from his country in a title match at any major since Adriano Panatta won the 1976 French Open - Italy will meet England at Wembley Stadium in the final of soccer’s European Championship that night.

“So far, it’s the best day, tenniswise, of my life,” said the 25-year-old Berrettini, who lost his only previous major semifinal at the 2019 U.S. Open. “Hopefully Sunday’s going to be even better.”

He’s now on an 11-match winning streak on grass courts, including a title at the Queen’s Club tuneup last month, when he became the first man since Boris Becker in 1985 to win the trophy in his debut at that event. Becker went on to triumph at Wimbledon that year.

The outcome Friday seemed to turn early against Hurkacz, never before past the third round at a Slam but coming off victories over eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev.

A key moment, oddly enough, came less than 20 minutes in, when Hurkacz was ahead 3-2 and held a break point. That was erased by Berrettini - no surprise here - by a service winner at 130 mph, punctuated by one of his many yells of “Si!”

From there, Hurkacz morphed from the guy coming off the biggest win of his career - in straight sets in the quarterfinals against his idol, Federer - back to the player who arrived in England on a six-match losing streak.

More than 50 minutes passed before Berrettini would drop another game, a stretch that gave him the first two sets and a 1-0 lead in the third.

He (almost) couldn’t miss. Hurkacz (almost) couldn’t connect.

In the first set, for example, the 6-foot-5, barrel-chested Berrettini compiled 21 winners - 11 off his forehand - and just eight unforced errors. Hurkacz, by contrast, did not accrue a single groundstroke winner in that span.

By the finish, Berrettini had 24 winners off his forehand alone, and merely 18 unforced errors. Hurkacz’s totals? Fewer than half as many winners, 27 - just four on forehands - and 26 unforced errors.

Hurkacz, so calm and collected against Federer two days earlier, was a picture of angst, leaning forward or rolling his eyes after some misses.

When Hurkacz got broken for the first time on the cloudy afternoon, the 24-year-old from Poland sat for the ensuing changeover and, between bites of a banana, motioned to his American coach, Craig Boynton, to adjust the seating arrangements in their guest box, wanting some people closer together and others more spread out.

As if that were the issue.

Hurkacz owns a formidable serve, too, but while he never seemed to be able to handle his foe’s, Berrettini did get good reads and would block returns back just to get a point started.

That worked well and eased the path to six breaks for Berrettini, who saved both such chances for Hurkacz.

Cheered from the stands by his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic, who made it to the quarterfinals this week, and his parents - Mom captured his on-court interview with her cellphone - Berrettini was two points from winning on four occasions in the third set, all while Hurkacz served: twice at 5-4 (both at deuce), twice at 6-5 (at 30-all and at deuce).

But Hurkacz got through those spots, then extended the contest by grabbing the tiebreaker, in which he was granted a 4-0 lead when Berrettini netted what should have been an easy forehand volley.

“I was feeling that I was deserving to win that set, and I lost it, and I said to myself, `It doesn’t matter. I was ... the stronger player,”’ Berrettini said. “That’s what I said to myself and, eventually, it paid off.”

Hurkacz managed to regroup a bit by leaving for the locker room after the second set, and Berrettini headed off the court after the third. When play resumed, Berrettini broke to begin the fourth, and soon was back on the proper path. Hurkacz saved Berrettini’s initial match point, at 5-3, with a service winner at 134 mph.

Berrettini, and his supporters, needed to wait only five minutes for a second opportunity to close it, which he did.