Berrettini's shiny weapons are back
Berrettini's serve and forehand, the slice masking the backhand, van Rijthoven upsets Medvedev, Murray hip
First of all, I highly recommend catching up on one of the stories of the season in Tim van Rijthoven winning the ’s-Hertogenbosch title, defeating (grass courter) Ebden, Fritz, Auger-Aliassime, and Medvedev (in the final today) to complete a fairytale week in his home country. van Rijthoven had never won a Challenger title, let alone an Tour level trophy. And he had just one tour level win in his career before this week. He’s 25 years old. A incredible run to an ATP title with a tough field (two top tenner’s in his path), out of relative obscurity.
van Rijthoven’s run aside I wanted to focus on the Stuttgart final, largely because Medvedev isn’t allowed to play Wimbledon so that match will probably offer limited information for the next month.
Berrettini d Murray: 6-4, 5-7, 6-3
A very entertaining final for the first two sets with a strange, final set ending. Murray seemed to take issue with Berrettini taking a bathroom break between the 2nd and 3rd sets, irritably gifted his opening service game away in the deciding set, and then suffered from hip (correction: Abdominal) issues which made it impossible for him to serve normally for the second half of set 3.
Murray mid match: "From the back it's fine (baseline rallies) but there's no chance I can serve properly…. That's what happens when you have those big breaks (alluding to time between 2nd and 3rd sets)."
Injury aside the match still provided a bunch of information about two players who love the grass court season, and who will actually meet again in the 2nd round of Queens (draw here) in a few days time if both play and make it through their opening rounds (Berrettini has a banana skin 1st round against Dan Evans).
Murray unable to deprive Berrettini of his strengths
Berrettini, on grass especially, is an absolute monster when he’s landing his huge 1st serves and either not having to play a 2nd shot, or having a neutral forehand to crush as that 2nd shot. Throughout the entire match today Berrettini only had to play 2(!) backhands as the 2nd shot (serve+1) after his 1st serve (both came in the 2nd set, none in sets 1 and 3).
Murray is a great returner, on grass especially, but even he found it very tough work to make Berrettini’s life difficult when the Italian made his 1st serve. Added to the fact that half of Berrettini’s 1st serves didn’t even come back in to play (20% more than Murray’s unreturned rate), partially thanks to Berrettini’s 19 aces, the Italian looked extremely solid for most of his service games. In sets 1 and 3 (the sets he won) Berrettini won 75% of points where he got to hit his forehand after his 1st serve.
Berrettini faced four break points in set 1, in the 2*-1 game. On those break points he went:
1st Serve into forehand serve+1 winner
Unreturned 1st serve
Berrettini faced no break points in the one sided 3rd set and even had a slightly ludicrous 89% of his 1st serves unreturned in that final set.
The one time Murray did break Berrettini, at the end of set 2, Berrettini had to play two backhand serve+1’s after 2nd serves, and also double faulted. As soon as Berrettini’s 1st serve and serve+1 crutch faded, even just for a moment, Murray pounced and tied up the match at a set all. A nice indication of how fine the margins can be on grass.
But there were impressive signs from Berrettini outside of his usual strengths.
I’ve liked Berrettini’s 2nd serve strategy on grass for some time now. He aims central and safe but puts serious pace and sometimes spin on the ball to jam up the returner and make it harder for them to find angles. I haven’t really seen anyone deal with it consistently with the exception of Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon final. Murray got his claws into 2nd serve returns in set 2, but otherwise Berrettini looked pretty solid and won quite a few free or cheap points with aggressive, 107-110mph (172kph+) body 2nd serves.
I also liked three aspects of Berrettini’s slice today:
Berrettini’s slice also often set up his forehand strength:
Finally, Berrettini also defended well off his slice backhand:
Berrettini also mixed in some nice serve+1 drop shots, which worked very well in set one but then malfunctioned a bit in set 2. He’s been using this play for a while now, since at least 2019 (see 2019 US Open), and it can work well considering how big his perceived forehand threat is as his usual serve+1 (i.e the opponent moves deeper to cover the expected forehand bomb which leaves more room and margin for the drop shot). I’m interested to see whether he uses this more at Queens and Wimbledon.
All in all, Murray would have hoped to have had a slightly bigger edge when the two players traded backhands, but I thought Berrettini both protected his backhand and enabled his forehand well from his backhand corner today. On top of all the usual 1st serve and serve+1 forehand advantages he already possesses.
I thought Murray did a few things really well today before he faded with the hip (abdominal) issue. His 1st serve and forehand +1 were excellent for the end of set 1 and all of set 2, especially in long, required gutsy holds twice in the second set. His 2nd serve return was expectedly excellent and consistently forced Berrettini to start a bunch of points off the back foot in his backhand corner in set 2 (Berrettini only won 36% of points when he had to play a backhand as his 2nd shot after his 2nd serve). But unfortunately Murray’s body seemed to fail him, making the 3rd set uncompetitive. Hopefully he’s ok for Queens and Wimbledon, because some of his wins and level this week in Stuttgart were huge steps forward at this stage of his career. He is still one of the very best grass courters on earth when he’s healthy and playing well.
Today though, after a rough period of hand surgery rehab, and the blow from having his Wimbledon final points wiped out, Berrettini capped off his comeback on his best surface. I wrote when Berrettini won Queens last year that it was very difficult to see anyone meaningfully depriving him of his strengths on a grass court other than Djokovic/Nadal. That proved prophetic as he lost only to Djokovic in the 2021 grass season. It wouldn’t be that surprising if the Italian didn’t defend his Queens title considering he’s played quite a bit of tennis over an intense week, after not playing at all for months, and because he plays an excellent grass courter in Dan Evans followed by potentially Murray again in a few days time. But it’s tough to see, with his shiniest of weapons and ever evolving slice intelligence, why Berrettini shouldn’t be one of the favourites for Wimbledon once again. Hopefully he, and Murray, both stay as fit as possible on the slippery stuff.
See you on Thursday for Queens/Halle!
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Top: Tom Weller via Getty