Matteo’s rise to the top of mens rankings has been a different journey to most. Whilst many break out onto the tour from an early age it was the opposite for Matteo, the Italian in 2018 at the age of 22 was playing most of his tennis at either ATP Challenger or ATP qualifying level.
His rise has been phenomenal but unusual, at the beginning of 2017 he was ranked at 435 in the world and at the end of 2019 was at the ATP Finals in London.
A couple of months before he made an incredible run to the final four in New York and his journey there was against the ‘norm’ but he was and is still reaping the rewards.
From a young age he was coached by former top 100 player Vincenzo Santopadre and the journey to now has been totally different to the ‘norm’.
In his teens Matteo came last in all training tests and wondered whether to continue and that’s where things changed for him. His coach Vincenzo thought it was a good idea to delay playing tennis and treated him like a player 10 years older.
One of the keys was to develop a life outside of tennis, build character and be a grounded person.
As a junior Matteo didn’t pull up trees and reached a career high of 52 on the circuit and didn’t turn pro until 19 but still took a different route but is on course for the same destination.
He qualified in London with the lowest points tally required for the tour finals and it came with unfair criticism, he deserved to be there, he did his bit it isn’t his fault others weren’t consistent. His time in London ended in defeat but I always said it should be seen as a learning curve, something to build on and not a season defining event.
2020 was a struggle for the Italian, the disruption of the tour for 6 months didn’t help anyone but consistency in performances was a problem.
This year however, he has been in fine form and it has been fantastic to see the Italian’s game go from strength to strength. He has built more strength behind his backhand and his touch at the net has become a bigger threat and part of his game.
His time in Melbourne came to a disappointing end after a great run at the ATP and to the fourth round of the Australian Open but struggled closing out his third round win over Khachanov and then withdrew before his encounter with Tsitsipas with an abdominal injury.
After a couple of months off injured he returned and lost to Casper Ruud in Monte-Carlo but has found his feet on the tour once again winning the title in Belgrade and runner-up in Madrid recently.
What he has achieved having played less than 150 matches on the tour is fantastic, consistent top ten player, he has made final four of a major and had good success on clay winning three titles and a win/loss of 36-16 when he left Madrid.
Despite everything that has happened and the ranking freeze would have helped but he has been top 10 for eighteen months now and it does feel like there has been a big improvement.
A big feature in his game in Madrid and his success there was the drop shot, he had a win percentage of just under 80% throughout the tournament. I do think when something outside of a usual backhand or forehand works well then it can be over-used, when it looks good it is good but over-used and error-ridden it looks bad and it caught him out in the third set against Zverev.
Players do also target his backhand, I do think it has stood up more and even though he has the improvement there, the delicacy behind his drop shot but the shot which leaves opponents in fear is the fearless backhand of the Italian.
Matteo wants to step in, the ball bounces up and his first thought is can I end this rally, the trajectory on his forehand is probably up there with the best in mens tennis, if he has time expect to run, he can push you from side to side and the landing distance of the forehand from wing to wing can be 10+ metres.
I’m excited to see what Matteo hopefully brings to the courts in Paris and I think he could cause some trouble!