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Matteo Berrettini: Keys to victory over Rafael Nadal in US Open semi-final

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 6 Sep 2019
  • Matteo Berrettini takes on Rafael Nadal in the second semi-final of the US Open on Friday night
  • What must the young Italian do if he is to cause the big upset over the three-time champion?
Matteo Berrettini (PA Sport)

Matteo Berrettini goes into his US Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal as the firm underdog, but it is not entirely impossible that the powerful Italian can pull off the big upset over the great Spaniard.

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Friday's contest is the first meeting between Berrettini and Nadal, as the Italian, competing in his maiden major semi-final, confronts the might of the 18-time Grand Slam champion.

Here’s a look at what the 23-year-old must do right if he is to cause the huge upset against Nadal on Friday night.

First Serve Percentage

It goes without saying that if Berrettini is to beat Nadal on Friday, he has got to maximize his strengths and as much as possible, hide his weaknesses- one of his biggest strengths is his serve. As is so often the case, when the serve is firing, all other components tend to follow suit. Berrettini's average first serve percentage for the tournament is below 60%, but I feel he's got to improve on that on Friday as Nadal will be waiting to pounce on his second offerings. Not that Berrettini's second serve is a big liability, but he can help himself by making first serves, and winning as many cheap points as possible.


I've talked about the serve being one of Berrettini's main strengths; well, the other is the forehand, and his chances of victory on Friday are directly proportional to the number of forehands he can hit on Friday night. It's a tough job against Nadal, who has carved his legend around a relentless assault on the right-hander’s backhand. That will again be his No. 1 strategy in this US Open semi-final- to attack the Berrettini backhand with his vaunted vicious cross-court lefty forehand.

Berrettini strikes one of the biggest forehands in the sport, and he can do absolutely anything with that shot- go inside-in, inside-out, cross-court, down-the-line, spin, pace, angle, but his backhand is not as threatening. He hardly hits winners off that wing, even though he cracked a few against Monfils in the quarter finals, and resorts more to the slice backhand. He's got a decent slice, but not a great slice, and it will most likely crumble under relentless pressure from Nadal.

He simply does not want to be hitting any sort of backhands against Nadal. Unfortunately, he will have to hit a few, but he must figure out a way to get his forehand more into play if he is to win this one.

First-Strike Tennis

Matteo Berrettini isn't known for his defence, and is definitely not going to beat Nadal with defence- if he is to take down the great Spaniard on Friday night, he must take the attack to the three-time champion from the get go, and stay on the charge, much like the likes of Juan Martin del Potro (US Open 2009) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Australian Open 2008) have done to the Spaniard in previous Grand Slam matches.

With his big serve and forehand, and not-so-good backhand, Berrettini is remarkably similar to Tsonga and del Potro, who absolutely destroyed Nadal with explosive first strike tennis in those referenced Grand Slam matches. That will be the way to go for the Italian on Friday.

Nadal is the master at working over an opponent- Berrettini will be a sitting duck if he allows the great man to take control.

Good Start

Berrettini got away with a slow start against Gael Monfils in quarter finals, but I don't think he will that fortunate against Nadal if he makes another nervous start on Friday night. At 3-6 0-2 down, the Italian looked completely lost against Monfils, but just when the Frenchman should be putting his foot down and pressing home his advantage, he played a very loose game to gift Berrettini a route back into contest.

Nadal will not have such sharp dips, nor will his form and mood fluctuate wildly like Monfils' did in that quarter final. He will pounce on, and punish any nerves. The Spaniard is one of the great frontrunners in the sport, and if he gets off to a flying start, it will be very difficult for Berrettini to reel him in. 

Even if he doesn't get an early break, he needs to stay with Nadal early on, and be at least at par in the latter stages of the opening set. Nadal has been there and done that, but the great champion is not immune to nerves when a match gets very tight.


This is actually the most important and basic of all the keys to victory- Berrettini must believe that he can beat Rafael Nadal to have any chance of reaching the US Open final. Everything centres around the mindset. Nadal is not going to play a bad match, so the Italian must approach the contest with the right attitude of wanting to, and believing that he can win, and then the game plan will follow. 

He has already accomplished a lot by reaching the semi-finals- is he content with that, or is he ruthless enough to want to go even further?

Berrettini vs Nadal is live from New York on Friday, 6 September from 6:00pm local time/ 11:00pm BST. Read the full match preview.

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Matteo Berrettini: Keys to victory over Rafael Nadal in US Open semi-final

Matteo Berrettini takes on Rafael Nadal in the second semi-final of the US Open on Friday night- what must the young Italian do if he is to cause the big upset?

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