Go spelunking inside Matteo Berrettini’s head and you will get an idea how appreciative three-fourths of the U.S. Open men’s semifinalists feel about the current state of affairs.
“I’m in the semis,” marveled Berrettini, a 23-year-old Italian in only his eighth Grand Slam tournament and enjoying his first summer ranked in the world’s Top 25. “Why not? I’m going, trying to keep going, and I’m dreaming as well, why not?”
His opponent on Friday is Rafael Nadal, 18 times a major tournament champion and playing in his 33rd major tournament semifinal. Something of a foregone conclusion. But the others?
“I am surprised. I am surprised,” said 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev. He is on a scorching streak of 21 wins in his last 23 matches, including his first two tour titles, and is seeded No. 5.
But this is Nadal territory. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer land. Medvedev’s semifinal opponent Friday is 28-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who six weeks ago lost to the 405th-ranked player in the world and was reminded then how tennis followers should not expect to see him this late in the Open.
“Me, too,” Dimitrov agreed.
But listen to Berrettini describe some of the thoughts, positive and otherwise, during the process of such unexpected developments.
“I was saying to myself during the match” — his five-set tiebreak quarterfinal upset of 13th seed Gael Monfils — “What do you expect for? I mean, you’re 23. Just playing your first quarterfinals and you expect that you not get tight? So I was saying to myself: OK, that’s normal.
“The feelings I had. I was checking my heart beating during the match. I was, like, oh, what’s happening? Then I said, OK, it’s normal. And this \[Arthur Ashe Stadium\] is a football stadium. It’s not like a tennis stadium.”
Now he’s got Nadal. “Who on this tour doesn’t know Rafa?” Berrettini said. “I mean, I saw, like, a hundred of his matches,” including Nadal’s 2005 championship final in Rome against Argentine Guillermo Coria, when Berrettini was 9.
“They were giving the match on TV for free . . . a channel that was about cartoons,” Berrettini said. “I was young. These guys, I mean, six hours they played. Come on. I want to catch my cartoons.
“But a lot of my classmates started to follow tennis and they were, ‘Oh, you’re playing the sport?’ I was, like, ‘Yeh. I’m dreaming about playing these kinds of matches.’ And now I’m here.”