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Berrettini Conquers Queens
The best serve on grass right now? Wimbledon prospects and cracks in the armour
Berrettini d Norrie: 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3
Berrettini now has 3 titles on clay, 2 on grass, and 0 on hard courts.
Safe to say the dude seems to like the natural surfaces (although competition on grass is weaker than on both clay and hard).
The Italian was by far the best player in London throughout the week and enters Wimbledon with plenty of hype.
Best serve in the game right now?
Berrettini was broken twice by Travaglia in the 1st round at Queens, but was then never broken again for the rest of the tournament. His % of 1st serves that were unreturned by his opponents looked like this:
vs Travaglia: 50%
vs Murray: 58%
vs Evans: 51%
vs De Minaur: 57%
(Final) vs Norrie: 61% unreturned
Essentially at least half of the time when Berrettini landed a first serve, it was point ending. An extremely nice cushion for those that can pull it off.
The above helped Berrettini average 85% first serve points won this week, never dropping below 80%, and even winning 91(!)% of his 1st serve points against Norrie in the final today. That 85% average is higher than Isner, Karlovic and Raonic's (the three leaders) career avg 1st serve performance on grass. It’s wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that Berrettini’s 1st serve, form-wise, is the best on tour going into Wimbledon.
To give you an idea of what it’s like to face Berrettini’s 1st serve, here’s a court level view of what Norrie saw. And bear in mind this wasn’t even one of Berrettini’s bigger serves (this was 136mph compared to the 143mph fastest of the day), nor was it placed as well as many of them were. A brutally short time window to react, as a returner:
Berrettini’s huge serve and forehand, backed up by a surprisingly great slice backhand for a 6ft 5 player, come together to form a compelling grass-courter package. And the final today against Norrie, and the week in London overall, served up some hints as to his wider chances at Wimbledon.
Today featured incredible serving (Berrettini didn’t face a single break point and bombed down 19 aces) but also some wobblier moments deeper in rallies in which the Italian looked vulnerable. Let’s take a look.
Berrettini gets to hit a lot of forehands as follow up shots to his serve (when he even needs to play a follow up shot that is). *A lot* of forehands:
Berrettini today had the trifecta of serve effectiveness. Lots of aces. Lots of unreturned serves overall. And even when Norrie did manage to put a return back in play, lots of big point ending forehand +1’s like this:
But Berrettini’s 2nd serve, although barely needed in the first two sets, can also stand up to scrutiny (he won 7/8 2nd serve points in set three):
It’s safe to say that Berrettini was pretty much flawless on serve today.
Cracks in the armour
There are vulnerabilities though. When Berrettini couldn’t rely on an early first strike in the point, either on serve or return, Norrie was usually the better player when points developed. Berrettini’s forehand in particular today leaked errors in the 5-8 shot range (hitting 17 forehand unforced errors overall, despite it usually being his topspin backhand which can more notoriously break down). Norrie dominated this category of point largely thanks to rushing Berrettini’s groundstrokes which rely on very quick wrist work (on both the forehand and backhand, but especially the forehand with its quite extreme grip).
Points won 0-4 shots: Berrettini 69, Norrie 47
Points won 5-8 shots: Berrettini 10, Norrie 25
Points won 9+ shots: Berrettini 5, Norrie 7
If Berrettini had a bit of time on the ball or the point was unfolding on his terms, as it so often did, he looked serenely in control. If Norrie could work a rally ball deep to Berrettini’s baseline and get the point to neutral, then Berrettini looked significantly weaker and regularly rushed (not to mention some of his struggles on return1).
This isn’t a surprise, and today it really didn’t matter much at all given Berrettini’s overwhelming short point dominance. But the above will matter if/when Berrettini meets someone at Wimbledon who is better than Norrie at getting to neutral in rallies, or at blocking returns short and forcing Berrettini to the net on sub-optimal serve+1’s. The list of those capable of this however, given Berrettini’s outrageously good serve, is pretty damn small:
Djokovic (In particular no one better than Novak at returning those 2nd serves to the body with his elastic & fast-reactions, nor at putting powerful 1st serve returns back in play, deep and central)
Federer, if he finds form (Federer destroyed Berrettini at Wimbledon in 2019 thanks in part to his excellent low, blocked returns neutralising Berrettini’s serve)
Schwartzman (who gave Berrettini a very tough match at Wimbledon in 2019, on both serve and return).
Maybe Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori and a few others if they find some form.
The rest of the tour, if they meet Berrettini in the sort of form we’ve seen at Queens, are probably going to have to pray that their own serves hold up long enough to force tiebreakers. And then run the gauntlet like Norrie did in set two by winning one vital mini-break and serving it out. The problem for most of the tour is that doing that over five sets will be hugely difficult if Berrettini keeps his serving level up. The perk of having such a monstrous serve is that the pressure usually rests more consistently on the opponent, especially on grass.
On to SW19
Going into Wimbledon, Berrettini can look forward to this surface continuing to accentuate some of his strengths. I’d argue the Italian has the finest 1-2 punch aggression on this surface right now. His serve and forehand are absolutely devastating at a time of year and surface which rewards short point play, especially for the big serving men:
But despite having a wonderful slice backhand, that will certainly help him against some of the higher ranked roadblocks on his way to making a run at SW19 in a couple of weeks time, the biggest question for his title hopes will remain these two things:
Whether he’ll meet anyone who will be able to neutralise his early point aggression to force more neutral, extended points. Or sub-optimal serve +1’s like low, short returns. Also whether he’ll meet these players in week two when the grass will be worn out and slightly less helpful to his serve and +1.
Whether he’ll be able to win enough of the tight tiebreakers if he meets a similarly strong serving foe.
The Italian, and his love for the natural surfaces, is a pretty well-rounded and very fun-to-watch player coming into his prime. He’s pretty much a perfect embodiment of the men’s tennis meta right now — a brutal, 1-3 shot punishing machine. Whether Berrettini can now take the next step on to a Slam final, or even a title, will be very exciting to watch in a week or so.
Just look out for opponents who can neutralise some of those strengths when the draw comes out.
Other finals today:
Halle - Humbert d Rublev: 6-3, 7-6(4)
Berlin - Samsonova d Bencic: 1-6, 6-1, 6-3
Birmingham - Jabeur d Kasatkina 7-5, 6-4
— The most polite racquet ‘smasher’ there ever was.
— Extraordinary, trailblazing stuff from Ons.
See you on Thursday
If you have any questions or thoughts about what you just read you can leave a comment below & I’ll answer it. No question is dumb.
The Racquet goes out twice a week, a (free) topical piece every Thursday and a (paid) analysis piece every Sunday/Monday.
Top photo: Tony O'Brien/Getty
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Berrettini hit some good blocked returns today (35% of his returns were blocks/slices compared to topspin drives), but frankly he benefitted from relatively soft service game capitulations from Norrie in each of set one and set three. In set one, Norrie double faulted to surrender the decisive break, and in set three he lost his serve from 40-0 up thanks to another double fault and some errant groundstrokes. It’s very unlikely Berrettini will ever have a great return, but he may well not need one depending on who he’s playing.