M a t t e o B e r r e t t i n i
Interview & Photographs by} John Russo
Grooming by} Santino Defranco
Styling by} John Benigno
Location} Indian Wells
Q: Take me back to Rome when you were a kid. When did you know you wanted to be a professional tennis player?
A: I remember watching the ATP event in Rome at the Foro Italico when I was a kid. I would try to sneak into Centre Court when Roger (Federer) was playing. I think that event and the experience of watching the players compete are reasons I am a professional tennis player today.
One of the other reasons is that my whole family plays tennis, loves tennis and my grandparents are still playing. Tennis is in our DNA. Nobody has been a professional tennis player in my family, my love for the game has always been there.
Q: Growing up, did you idolize any tennis players? Did you get to meet that player?
A: I grew up watching Roger (Federer) and cheering for him. I supported him as much as I could, watching him on TV whenever he was on. But then the day came when I realized I was playing the same tournament as he was in the same draw. So I couldn’t support him anymore from that point on. I have told Roger this story as we get on very well now.
I think that’s why one of the first times I played him on Centre Court and Wimbledon, he destroyed me, because I couldn’t believe I was playing against my idol on one of the most iconic courts on tour.
Q: Teenage years can cause huge distractions in a person’s life. Between hormones raging, dating, and wanting to enjoy being young, I can see many people losing focus on their dreams. How did you remain so focused throughout your teenage years? Was there ever a point when you doubted this career choice?
A: I hand’t labeled myself a future tennis star when I was a teenager, so I lived a normal life. I was living in Rome, enjoying life, but I never really went out or did crazy things. I would hang out with my friends. I’ve always enjoyed playing tennis, so it never really felt like I was sacrificing anything as I was doing what I wanted most.
As I grew up and improved, I started to realize what the entire professional tennis life is like – spending 10 to 11 months on tour without coming home much. It does take a lot of getting used to.
Now I am dating a WTA tennis player, Ajla Tomljanovic, which helps as she understands me and the demands of the tour. And my family tries to travel with me as much as they can. I don’t see them as much as I want, but that is the way it is. It is my passion, I am lucky, I am doing what I love, and I take the positives.
Q: In 2017, you made your first ATP prominent draw appearance at the Italian Open. And then you see that you are playing the top Italian player at the time, Fabio Fognini, in the first round. Mentally, how did you go into that match? Did you think I could beat this guy, or were you so excited to have this opportunity that you just wanted to enjoy the moment?
A: It was great in one way but in another way not great at all tennis-wise. I didn’t play my best match. I was very nervous, very tight, but I was happy to be there. I grew up watching games on that court, and I couldn’t believe that I was there. If I remember correctly, I think I actually double-faulted on the first point (laughing) and then lost the first set 6-1, and then 6-3 the second set.
Fabio was playing well at the time, the day after he beat Murray, so he was on good form. But overall, the match and experience have helped me throughout my career so far; I learned how to handle high-pressure situations. The following year in Rome, I was more prepared because I knew what to expect because of how much I learned from the first experience.
Q: In 2018, you won your first ATP singles and doubles title at the Swiss Open Gstaad. Did the taste of winning give you the confidence and belief that you could be a top player?
A: Yeah, Gstaad was a crazy week. I went there not expecting to win even one title, never mind two. I don’t think I lost my serve once in singles the whole tournament. I was playing the best tennis I played in 2018. It was a memorable week. I went there with a friend rather than my coach. Vincenzo (coach) stayed at home, and at a certain point before the finals, he asked me if I wanted him to come. I said, “no, no, no, the whole tournament, we’ve done this without you, so I will just continue with the same setup,” of course, this was about superstition rather than not wanting Vincenzo there.It went well, of course; it was a great memory. And then, after that, I found out I could keep improving. So, I see it in a way as the start of my career.
Q: In 2021, you skyrocketed to the top of the game. The pressure is now on. How do you handle the pressure and expectation that the media puts on you?
A: I honestly don’t feel too much pressure, particularly from the media. The most stress comes from me, ensuring I fulfill my potential and a desire to make my family, team, and country proud.
Q: I believe that sports commentators put unnecessary pressure and expectation on players. It’s no wonder players crack under pressure. Serena Williams is a prime example. If I had a nickel for every time, Patrick McEnroe said, “Serena is still pursuing the 24th grand slam that has eluded her. Not to mention how the other commentators built up enough pressure on Novak to sink ten ships. Tennis players are human beings that have feelings. Do you think there is a point where too much media coverage and hype can be detrimental to your performance?
A: I think it depends on the player and personality. For me, media and being in the spotlight are something that comes with the career choice. Some players like the hype and pressure and perform better with it, whereas others prefer to go under the radar more.Even without the media, players would still feel the pressure. They have trained their whole lives to win trophies, achieve personal goals, and break and set incredible records when it comes to Serena and Novak. So they also put pressure on themselves. They know how significant their achievements are and potentially how important they could be to whatever they are trying to achieve.
Q: Which other tennis player, who is currently playing, thinks it’s the best ambassador of the sport? And why?
A: Roger. I admire the example he sets, and the time he gives to the sport off the court and away from the cameras. I feel he understands that he has the power to have a much more significant impact on the world in general. Whether it is his charity work or sitting on the ATP player council for so many years, he utilizes the sport and his popularity to impact as many lives as he can positively.
Q: If you could go back in time and play against a player that has retired, who would it be?
A: I think it would be tricky to play against John McEnroe, a left, really talented and coming to the net a lot. And I’d also like to play against Adriano Panatta, a true legend of Italian tennis.
A: There are a lot of great athletes, but I would need to say, Novak. Incredible mover on all the surfaces.
Q: Best forehand past of present?
A: Now, this is a tricky question. I believe I have a good forehand. I don’t know if it’s the best on tour but let me be confident for once (laughing). For past players, I remember Sampras had a great forehand and also a great serve. There have been a lot of players with amazing forehands, but let’s go with Pete Sampras.
Q: The most gracious?
A: Roger. Without a doubt and from previous players, maybe Edberg or Bjorg. All three are and were incredibly gracious.
Q: The most likely to talk shit and cause a diversion?
A: Ummmm, tough one. No one trash talks, well to me anyway, but a few can cause a diversion. I, of course, have never played him but based on reputation and having watched a few matches, I would need to go with John McEnroe.
Q: Hardest to play?
A: I would need to go with Djokovic, Nadal, or Federer. Arguably the three greatest players of all time. It has been exciting to be played simultaneously as all three, but also slightly annoying (joking) as I’d probably have a few more trophies at home.
Q: A backboard?
A: I would say either Novak or Daniil Medvedev. It always takes something extra to win a point against those two. The ball keeps coming back from all corners of the court.
Q: If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be and why?
A: I honestly don’t know what I would be as I have always wanted to play tennis and never really thought of a backup plan. I love animals, so maybe if I weren’t playing tennis, I would be doing something related to animals and ideally helping animals somehow.
Q: You are now 65 years old and had the most incredible career to look back on. You are asked. In an interview, “what was the best part of being on tour”? What is your response?
A: I would generally say just being lucky and privileged enough to travel the world, meet incredible people, and hopefully inspire or bring some happiness to people along the way. That is rewarding. There are times when you meet kids, and they have copied your technique or wear the hat backward as I do on the court, and it brings happiness and positivity to their lives. That’s when you realize it is about much more than winning tennis matches.
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