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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 9, 2021

Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev rallied past Matteo Berrettini 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-3 to win his second Mutua Madrid Open title and fourth Masters 1000 championship.

Photo credit: Mateo Villalba/Mutua Madrid Open

Timely strikes and stress management propelled Alexander Zverev to his second Madrid title.

In a quality clash of explosive baseliners, Zverev out-dueled Matteo Berrettini, 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-3 to capture his 15th career championship, including his fourth Masters 1000 crown.

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The 24-year-old German is fifth on the ATP's list of active Masters 1000 champions behind only world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

This title puts Zverev on the short list of Roland Garros contenders to challenge Rafae Nadal.

"I think, look, it's extremely important. I think the clay court season, also to do well at the French Open, you need to be playing well during the clay court season," Zverev said. "That is in a way important for me, as well.

"At the end of the day I won a Masters. There's really very little in terms of bigger than this one right here. I'm happy. I'm happy with this achievement. Obviously, yeah, I look forward to the next few weeks. I look forward to what's ahead."

The 2018 Madrid champion improved to 15-2 in Madrid—his best winning percentage in a Masters event—completing a sensational week that saw him knock off king of clay Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, avenge his 2020 US Open final loss to Dominic Thiem in the semifinals then rally past Masters final debutant Berrettini with a powerful performance over the final two sets.

"I think it was a good week for me. I mean, obviously, as I said today on court, Matteo today was extremely difficult for me in a way that I didn't play anybody who serves 235, dominates the ball like he does," Zverev said. "Against Rafa and Dominic, the matches were different.

"I mean, both obviously great players on clay, maybe the two best players right now. Yeah, against Matteo was extremely difficult just getting the ball back in play, getting the ball deep enough to have the chance to win the point. Yeah, coming back from a set down to win the title here, I'm extremely happy with that."

It's the second time in his career Zverev has been three Top 10-ranked opponents in a title run following his surge to the 2018 ATP Finals championship.

"I want to congratulate Sascha for an unbelievable week; we played a great final," Berrettini said. "It's tough. The sport is crazy. It's such a really good moment of my career, but that the same time it's not that great becuase I lost."

Zverev was both conqueror and consoler.

"You deserved to win this title just as much as I did," Zverev told Berrettini during the trophy presentation."I know this moment is not the greatest. I've been there: trust me I felt 100 times worses after ths US Open final.

"But when you win a title like this it will feel even better. It will feel so much more special. I am sure you will."

Rain danced on the retractable roof of the Magic Box during the first set. The closed roof created pristine conditions for two big servers to stretch the service box and set up forcing—and sometimes finishing— first strikes. 

Riding his electric first serve, Zverev served 69 percent, rocketing an average serve speed in excess of 130 mph, and saved two of three break points.

Ultimately, Zvereved played a cleaner final committing 22 fewer unforced errors than Berrettini, who committed 50 errors in a two hour, 40-minute final. The German's serve, smooth movement and his flat two-handed backhand were all assets today as he did good work repelling Berrettini's inside-out forehand and sometimes redirected his backhand down the line.

"I think he played really good. I returned a serve that was going 220 something," Berrettini said. "This is just tennis, you know. I really actually felt that in the first set, even though I was up a break, I wasn't playing my best tennis.

"I was playing really good the beginning of the second and I couldn't get the break. Nothing. In the third, it was a fight. No regrets at all. I left it all. I played good. I didn't play unbelievable. I think also that it's what he did to make me play like not my best tennis."

The Italian won the toss, elected to receive, and confronted trouble in the opening service game of his Masters final debut. Berrrettini sifted a forehand drop shot to save a break point, eventually holding in the second game.

A slew of drop shot winners helped Berrettini reach his first Masters final and a clever drop shot earned the Italian double break point in the seventh game. A snapping forehand return right back into Zverev's hip earned an errant reply as Berrettini barked "come on!" earning the first break for 4-3.

The fifth-seeded German broke right back, winning the longest exchange of the match on a Berrettini netted forehand, to even after eight games. 

Dancing around his backhand, Berrettini ripped a forehand down the line to force the first-set tie breaker.

Detonating a 143 mph rocket ace  Berrettini raced out to a 3-0 lead, expanding his advantage to 5-0 when Zverev scattered an inside-out forehand.

Just when the German looked down and out, Zverev responded with four points in  a row drawing to 4-5 when Berrettini's slice strayed beyond the baseline.

The man in the backward baseball cap cracked a forehand down the line for set point. In the ensuing 13-shot rally, Zverev hit a deep drive to coax  a forehand error for 5-6.

On his second set point, Berrettini tried to change direction and finish with his forehand down the line but found the net instead. From love-5 down, Zverev was even at 6-6. Zverev bolted an ace down the T for set point at 7-6, but Berrettini denied it, using a diagonal forehand for a third set point at 8-7.

Deadlocked 8-8, the US Open finalist went for a massive second serve down the T and paid the price, missing wide as Berrettini gained his fourth set point.  This time, Berrettini made no mistake banging a wide serve to convert his fourth set point and end a quality 70-minute opening set.

It marked the first time Berrettini took a set from Zverev since his 7-5, 7-5 win over the German at his home tournament in Rome two years ago.

The 6'5" Rome resident was ripping his first serve to set up his first strike. Berrettini served 75 percent and won 12 consecutive points played on his serve in powering to three straight love holds for a 3-2 second-set lead.

Tennis Express

Though Berrettini's crackling topspin forehand was the biggest ground stroke on the court, Zverev is more balance off both wings, strikes flatter, sustained the length of his drives and anticipated the Italian's drop shot as the much progressed.

The seventh game saw Berrettini rise from a love-30 hole and erase a break point streaming forward to block off a high forehand volley and hold for 4-3.

Though the drop shot had been a worthy weapon throughout his run to the final, Berrettini telegraphed it in the ninth game. Zverev read the dropper and slid into a backhand reply for two break points. The Italian double faulted the break and a 5-4 lead to Zverev.

Serving out the second set was tricky. Zverev fended off a deep forehand then anticipated the drop shot, burst up to  the ball quickly and shoveled his reply back to take the second set and force a decider after one hour, 52 minutes.

Staring down stress in the fourth game of the decider, Zverev missed the center stripe for his seventh double fault to face a break point. He drilled a diagonal forehand to save it and held firm for 2-2.

The 6'6" Zverev is a better lateral mover than Berrettini and put his legs to use digging in for a determined defensive stand. Zverev slid into drives sending back everything Berrettini swatted his way until the Italian, trying to find the sideline, missed the mark on successive forehands.

A screaming Zverev snatched the crucial break for 3-2.

Tugging at his sleeveless shirt, Zverev slid his fourth ace off the sideline to navigate a tense hold confirming the break in the sixth game.

A weary Berrettini shanked a bounce-smash well wide to face championship point then recovered,  hurling himself into a forehand down the line before finishing with the inside-out forehand.  Berrettini put a backhand into net as Zverev gained a second championship point.

When Berrettini's backhand strayed wide, Zverev thrust his arms toward the sky celebrating his second Madrid championship in the last four years.


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