There are those who mistakenly think that Matteo Berrettini is a model who plays a bit of tennis on the side.
His representatives get offers on an almost daily basis from the fashion industry, with some of its number under the false impression that he is anything other than a deadly serious athlete.
He has emphasised that this summer by winning both grass court events he has entered, the latter being at Queen’s. By the time Wimbledon is out he may yet become his country’s first male Grand Slam singles champion since Adriano Panatta in 1976, another matinee idol.
Matteo Berrettini is the tennis star with matinee idol looks and has the game to win Wimbledon
With Berrettini, 26, in demand from all sides, Sportsmail secured time with him at his Monaco home. It turns out he is not just easy on many people’s eyes, but as modest, friendly and smart as his reputation suggests.
He not only dazzled with his play last year at SW19, which saw him give Novak Djokovic a serious challenge in their four-set final, but also won a legion of fans.
He is somewhat sheepish on the subject of his broad appeal. ‘Well, that was all a bit new for me, but it makes me happy that I had some new followers,’ he says.
That heady Sunday last summer saw the Wimbledon final followed by the climax of the Euros, in which England lost to Italy.
Nobody experienced it quite like Berrettini. It began with him practising on Wimbledon’s courts, playing his match and then making a mad dash to Wembley, which ended with him on the pitch joining the victorious team.
Berrettini gave Novak Djokovic a serious challenge in their four-set final at SW19 last year
The 26-year-old labelled Djokovic (above) as ‘one of the toughest opponents ever’
Djokovic came out on top in the Wimbledon final last summer on a heady Sunday for the Italian
The following day he was invited on the open-top team coach for a glory lap in his home city of Rome. A journey of three miles took three hours before millions of supporters.
Berrettini is in the vanguard of a surge in Italian tennis and fittingly grew up a few kilometres from the Foro Italico, the statue-lined historic tennis venue which sits next to the Olympic Stadium.
Although football and other activities had their appeal — he supports Fiorentina due to family ties in Florence — the racket sport was always likely to be his game. His businessman father invested in the tennis club where he learned to play.
‘My whole family play — my grandparents, my mum,’ he says. ‘They gave me my first racket when I was three but I didn’t like it and did swimming and judo. Then my brother started playing and I got into it.’
He was a relatively late developer as he stayed in full-time education until the age of 19, originally feeling most comfortable on his native surface of clay before expanding his repertoire to hard courts and, very successfully, the grass.
Berrettini explains all this in his excellent English as he dons a suit from his sponsor, BOSS. His mastery of the language partly stems from several years in Florida, where he was based with his former girlfriend, the Australian player Ajla Tomljanovic, from whom he split a few months ago.
After Wimbledon, he made his way to Wembley to join Italian president Sergio Mattarella, Valentina Vezzali and Evelina Christillin in one of the boxes to watch the Euro 2020 final
Berrettini (right) joins Ciro Immobile (left) and the Italian team on the Wembley pitch after
Before he got through to last year’s final, many noticed him in her player box when she faced Emma Raducanu, on the day the Brit had to retire with breathing difficulties. He never envisaged that grass would be the surface on which he would most excel.
He has been able to tailor his game, which features the biggest ‘one-two’ combination of anyone on the tour in terms of a huge serve followed up by a thunderous forehand.
‘I never thought I would be good on grass. The first year I played on it was 2018 and I didn’t like it.
‘Then I did my pre-season before 2019 on really fast hard courts and after that the grass felt really good. I went to play the Davis Cup against India and we played on grass. And from the first practice I felt like, “Wow, this is nice”.’
His prowess carried him all the way to the 2021 All England Club final, a day he and his countrymen will never forget.
‘I was disappointed after the final but I couldn’t be too hard on myself, it was my first in a Slam and it had been a crazy four weeks. After I won the second round at Queen’s last year and beat Andy Murray they asked me about July 11 — “It’s going to be two finals for London and could it be one for you and one for the football team”. Remember in Italy we are superstitious.
Berrettini pictured at Monte Carlo Country Club (left) and in Wimbledon action last year (right)
Sportsmail sat down with Berrettini at his home in Monaco, and is as modest, friendly and smart as his reputation suggests
‘On the day my whole family were there and the whole country was watching.
‘I had chances in the fourth set and could have made it a decider, but Novak has played so many Slam finals and is one of the toughest opponents ever.
‘It was an incredible day for everyone in Italy. The football made it more special and I was somehow part of it, but the pressure was the same. I will never forget the atmosphere and love which I felt.
‘I did the media afterwards in a rush, had a shower, didn’t stop for one second. I got to Wembley at the end of the first half. We got to this entrance and it looked like I was going to have to walk through 5,000 people who were outside.
‘We didn’t think that was a good idea so we found another way and went underneath the stadium and got in. I was in this area with the president of Italy!
‘I was asked to step on the pitch afterwards and met most of the players. I was surprised because a few of them said they had been watching my Wimbledon matches in the team room.
‘(Captain Giorgio) Chiellini said he was watching when he was supposed to be having his afternoon nap and couldn’t sleep. It was really nice, they didn’t have to say it, especially when they were celebrating. After that I keep in touch with a few of them.
‘The next day in Rome was unbelievable, on the bus — I have never seen so many people!’
This summer, Berrettini has won both grass court events he has entered, the latter being at Queen’s (pictured last weekend with the trophy)
It was a different scene from the few onlookers watching our photoshoot in Monaco, where he enjoys anonymity and has a steady supply of fellow residents as high-quality practice partners.
Berrettini is unhappy that no ranking points will be at stake at this Wimbledon.
He is unable to defend the 1,200 he made from reaching the 2021 final and his standing is sure to take a hit.
‘It doesn’t matter how well I play this year, my ranking is going to drop, and that is not fair, although I get that it is a really sad and complicated situation with what is going on in Ukraine.
‘I just wish that this decision was taken in a different way. Nobody asked us our opinion about it and it shouldn’t work like that.
‘But it is Wimbledon. I don’t think there are going to be any changes in the tournament. Everyone will make their best effort and it’s going to be a great two weeks.’
Matteo Berrettini is an ambassador for BOSS