'Confident' Berrettini sees the light

 - Simon Cambers

Italian turns a corner after difficult 2020 as he blasts into the third round in Paris

© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

When Matteo Berrettini lost in the third round in Paris last year, the Italian cut a sad figure, talking about how he was “seeing everything dark”.

At Roland-Garros on Thursday, the Italian was bathed in light as he marched into the third round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Federico Coria, the younger brother of the 2004 runner-up Guillermo.

“I wasn't (in) the best place on my career, I have to say,” said a much happier Berrettini after his victory over the Argentine. “I had a lot of injuries. It wasn't an easy year for anyone.

“So when I was looking around myself, tennis-wise I was looking at bubbles and stuff, and sometimes I was feeling like -- obviously I was happy to play tournaments, but it wasn't the best, like, atmosphere. I miss the atmosphere. I miss the fans. I miss everything.

“That's what I was looking for. And obviously then inside I would say something more, that it's coming from inside, you know, like really the will to do great stuff.”

Spending two weeks in quarantine in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open was probably not the ideal situation for Berrettini, then, but the Italian was lucky enough to spend it together with his girlfriend, Alja Tomljanovic.

Matteo Berrettini, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Whether it was that, or not, something clicked for Berrettini and even though he suffered an unfortunate abdominal injury at the Australian, his form has been strong since his return at the start of the clay-court season.

He won his fourth career title in Belgrade and then reached the final in Madrid. Three of his four titles have come on clay and though his one Grand Slam semi-final came on hard courts at the US Open, he looks totally at home on the red stuff.

The battle between light and dark, he said, will always be there.

“I think from the beginning of this year, I found the thing, it was the thing that brought me where I was, where I am now. Now I see that it's normal. Like it's ups and downs, like it's tennis," the 25-year-old explained.

“So when I struggle, I struggle. When I'm happy, I'm happy. But before it was a little bit too dark. I have to work, and I'm proud of what I have done. Now I'm really looking forward to play next tournaments, next matches, because at the end now I feel I'm back again.”

With his big serve, huge forehand and a backhand that can be equally effective whether driven or sliced, Berrettini has all the tools required to be successful on clay but he has never been past the third round at Roland-Garros.

Coria, though, was no match for his power and Berrettini ran out a comfortable winner, setting up a meeting with Kwon Soonwoo of Korea, who beat another Italian, Andreas Seppi.

“I knew that I could beat him,” Berrettini said of Coria. “I played him twice. I know which kind of player he is. I stepped in knowing that I could hurt him tennis-wise. I was serving well, playing aggressive. Everything was working pretty fine.

“Obviously you don't step in and you know you're going to win, but I had the confidence to bring the match in that way.”

That’s a far cry from last October, but Berrettini has seen the light.