Matteo Berrettini's grass-court prowess reminiscent of another Wimbledon great

Matteo Berrettini, fresh off his championship at the Queen's Club in London, has dropped just one set so far at Wimbledon. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

LONDON -- When Matteo Berrettini won the Queen's Club title recently in London, it was pointed out to him that the last man to triumph in his debut went on to win Wimbledon a few weeks later.

That was Boris Becker, who won the title at Wimbledon in 1985 as a 17-year-old and went on to win it twice more, in 1986 and 1989.

Being compared to Becker at Wimbledon is a huge compliment for any player. The German was one of the best grass-court players ever, a man whose serve-and-volley tennis thrilled crowds at the All England Club for more than a decade.

It was equally strange and fitting, then, that Becker should be one of the first people Berrettini came across when he arrived at Wimbledon. And Becker was on hand with some advice.

"Of course it feels nice to hear my name close to him," Berrettini said. "I think the best part was that I met him as soon as I got here. He was walking by. He stopped. I was surprised because he knew who I was. He made me feel good. He told me like, well done. Now we have something in common.

"He also told me I had to keep my mind clear to have a long run here. I'll try to do that."

Whether it was Becker's words that were the inspiration, Berrettini has certainly followed his advice, as his 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Ilya Ivashka on Monday put him through to the quarterfinals for the first time.

Wednesday, he dispatched good friend Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 to earn a berth in the semifinals.

His huge serve and big forehand have been working well, but his prowess on grass should perhaps not be a surprise. He won his first grasscourt title in Stuttgart two years ago and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2019, stopped by Roger Federer.

A semifinalist at the US Open two years ago and a quarterfinalist in Paris last month, Berrettini's stock has been on the rise for a while now. Seeded seventh at Wimbledon, the only set he has dropped was to Guido Pella in the first round.

In a crop of exciting young Italians on the men's side, Berrettini took his time to come through the ranks. He likes to say that he was never considered as the best junior in any age group, and that he was something of a late developer.

Vincenzo Santopadre has been by his side since Berrettini was just 15, the longevity another reason why the Italians are having such success. There's no rushing to judgment or rushing to change coaches when things are not going well.

Now, Berrettini has become one of the hunted. It's a position he has earned, and one he appreciates.

"I mean, pressure and these kind of things, I think it's a privilege in a way," he said. "If someone told me a few years ago, look, they're going to compare your name to Becker ... I would feel great. It feels great.

"I know now I step in the court, people around me in general, they expect me to win. I expect myself to win. Two years ago, three years ago when I got here, I know it wasn't like that. Everything changed."

Part of the reason for his success is the way Berrettini has been serving. His big forehand is almost as strong a weapon, but it's what he does on serve that has been helping him get to this stage.

After four matches, Berrettini had hit the most aces (67), was third in unreturned first serves, and in the top 10 on both second serves unreturned and first serves won. He was also second in points won on second serve, always considered to be a good indication of a player's strength.

And the good news for Berrettini is that he feels he has not yet peaked this week.

"I think I didn't play my best tennis [against Ivashka]," he said. "I actually didn't play a bad match, I won in straight sets with a guy that was playing really good. It means I played a really good level. But I know that I can play better.

"It gives me confidence because I know I can win these kind of matches even though I'm not playing, like I said, my best tennis. At the same time, I know that I can play better. I just see really positive stuff. I'm happy also because I played just three sets."

Two more wins and the comparison with Becker may really start to mean something.

"I wish I have everything in common [with him], like all the titles and stuff," Berrettini said. "I'll try to get there."