2021 Madrid Open ATP Finals
Two near-perfect performances in the semifinals were a fine complement to Sabalenka’s heroic win in the WTA finals. After winning the first 6-0, Sabalenka seemed to run out of steam in the second. Errors started to come, and she devolved into “must make it” mode which led to her scrambling for some nice gets, but mostly played into Barty’s hands as her depth disappeared immediately with the mindset change. Down 3-4 0-30, Sabalenka not only held but basically didn’t miss another shot. Barty threw in one subpar serving game at 4-4 and that was all it took. These two could not be playing better going into Rome, and both are frontrunners for Rolan Garros.
Zverev vs Berretini :
Two rounds in a row Zverev has taken a conceivably better player and made them look like they were completely out of sorts. Nadal struggled to find length, made unforced errors on his forehand, and genuinely had difficult returning serve. Watching Thiem and Zverev was very similar. Thiem looked to be content to extend rallies and work his backhand slice, but Zverev never made errors. Thiem’s serve disappeared for most of the match, and he resorted to the kickserve for a second most of the time which let Zverev put a lot of balls in play. Despite not going big on his shots, Zverev’s pace and weight of shot have taken time away from his opponents in these past two rounds, and his serving once he secured a break was just unplayable. Thiem didn’t really look like he wanted to redline in this one, and it’ll be interesting to see how he competes in Rome. As much as Nadal and Thiem seemed a bit out of it, the common denominator is Zverev, who seems to be the Rublev of Masters 1000 events.
Berretini put on a similarly exceptional performance from start to finish against Ruud. They played even in the scoreline for long stretches of this match, but Berretini was just sprinting through his service games. His serve was unplayable today, and despite being a slight underdog heading into the finals, it is important to note that Berretini hasn’t lost in over two weeks and is coming off a title run where he beat Karatsev (after he beat Djokovic). So is Berretini a superb thief grabbing titles from people who’ve done the dirty work? Delbonis removed PCB and ARV, Garin beat Medvedev, and Ruud beat Tsitsipas. So yes? The fatigue issues that popped up against Taro Daniel have disappeared despite this being his third week of tennis in a row. Berretini has played a significantly softer draw and that means less time on the court. For the finals I would expect both guys to hold serve at a pretty strong clip. Zverev is getting a lot of height on his serves and his outwide ball has been unplayable. Berretini is hitting like a cannon and his forehand is disappearing off court if any short ball gets returned. Watching him win on clay is exciting, but his game peaking right before Wimbledon is very exciting. With Federer a bit of a question mark and Nadal really seeming a step behind the pace on faster courts, a huge serve and forehand combo with a biting slice backhand are a great recipe for a deep run.
Good news for Berretini in the finals are that he’s played Zverev twice before on clay and he won the most recent meeting, a 2019 straight set win in Rome. It was 7-5, 7-5 and three of their total sets have been 7-5, which makes sense with how big their serves are. I expect more of that here, and although straight sets has been the recipe in the past neither have seemed this week like they are going to have large lapses in quality. Berretini’s play today would likely have been good for beating Thiem in about the same way, and I think he’ll be a bit more aggressive early in the finals since the pressure lands more on Zverev to win here. After eating it in the semifinals, I’m ready to get hurt again. Berretini in 3.