Madrid Masters 2021: Zverev beats Berrettini in thrilling final to win fourth Masters title

Zverev beat three consecutive top-10 players to win the title, following earlier wins against Nadal and Thiem

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev (Photo: Mutua Madrid Open / Ángel Martínez)

Men’s tennis has to go back a very long time to find the last occasion that four consecutive Masters titles were won by someone other than Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. To 2003, in fact.

But the final of this year’s Mutua Madrid Open will not only mark that rare deviation from norm but will also mark four straight Masters that do not even feature one of the tennis triumvirate in the final.

That is not the whole story: all but one of the eight to make the finals of last year’s Paris Masters and this year’s Miami, Monte-Carlo and Madrid Masters were age 24 or under—and the eighth, Matteo Berrettini, only turned 25 a month ago.

Perhaps, at long last, “the times they are a-changin’”.

It has created a scenario ripe for new rivalries to emerge. Monte-Carlo finalists Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev have met five times since their Hamburg final last year. Paris finalists Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev have met nine times, and are poised at 4-5.

Zverev, already a three-time Masters champion, was this time up against Berrettini, who had a Major semi-final to his name and had also qualified for the 2019 ATP Finals.

The Italian, playing in his first Madrid Masters, had emerged from the half headed by strong clay seeds such as Tsitsipas and Diego Schwartzman, as well as a former Masters champion Fabio Fognini and the young Chilean Cristian Garin, who had won a career fifth clay title in Santiago this year. Coming on the back of the clay title in Belgrade, Berrettini was up to eight straight wins on the red stuff.

However, Zverev’s prodigious early success had once again propelled him into a Masters final after a dip in form last season. He won five titles, including the Rome and Canadian Masters, in 2017, as he turned from 19 to 20, and four more, including the Madrid Masters, the following year. He had four additional Masters finals in the bank, too, plus his first Major final at the US Open, and while he had not set the clay scene alight in Monte-Carlo or Munich this year, he had certainly done so on the faster clay of Madrid, as evidenced in his draw.

The tall German did not drop a set through wins over Kei Nishikori, Dominic Thiem, and Nadal, which was his first win over the Spaniard on clay and his third in a row overall. He was going to be a tough a nut to crack, and perhaps all the more so once the roof on the Manolo Santana court was closed against the rain.

And talking of the mighty Spaniard and winner of four Major titles, Santana was helped into his court-side seat after three games, always a much-admired presence at his home tournament and preparing to mark his 83rd birthday tomorrow. No pressure to deliver a fine final, then.

The first test of the Italian was in his first service game, almost 10 minutes, and he faced and saved an early break point. However, both began as they had played the whole tournament, hitting big and confidently, but mixing in the odd drop-shot to keep their opponent on his toes.

Berrettini fired off a 100mph forehand, then a drop-shot, and a big winning serve to level 3-3: He was cranking up his game, it seemed. Sure enough, the Italian drew Zverev forward to make an error and earn a break chance, and the Italian converted with some outstanding returns of serve, forcing one more error and the break, 4-3.

Yet despite a 140mph ace at one point, Zverev broke straight back, keeping the baseline rallies tight and probing. He held with ease, and all the pressure was back on the Italian, serving to save the set.

He did not waver, an easy hold, and he replicated that to take it to a tie-break. The Italian pounded through the first five points, too, producing huge depth with power to pin Zverev back.

However, the German reeled him in, using slice and then changing pace and direction to draw errors: 4-5. Berrettini could not convert his first set point, and they changed ends at 6-6, with Zverev playing clutch, patient tennis, determined not to make an error.

Nothing separated them, as first one then the other had set point, but Zverev double faulted for 8-9, and on his fourth set point, Berrettini produced a huge serve: 7-6(8), after an hour and 10 minutes. They had exactly 48 points each, but the Italian had made 17 winners to Zverev’s six, and had been the more aggressive player.

Berrettini kicked off the second set with a run of 12 points on serve, 3-2, and was clearly brimming with confidence on both wings, delivering winners in both directions. Then all at once, he faced break point, but rose to the challenge. He had to try and do so again, as Zverev picked up a drop-shot attempt with ease to create more break points, and the Italian made his first double fault of the match.

Zverev, in contrast, was icily focused, and played a superb final point to hold for 6-4.

The third set seemed to be going Berrettini’s way when he worked a break chance in the fourth game, but Zverev regrooved his serve, and then defended superbly to pressure the Italian. It worked, the German broke, and held for 4-2.

Zverev’s fitness, speed and defensive skills were now punishing the Italian, and it earned the German a first championship point as Berrettini thumped a smash long. The Italian saved it, but then netted a tired backhand, and it was done and dusted, 6-3, in two hours 40 minutes, the longest final at the Caja Magica.

In the end, perhaps fitness and fatigue made the difference: The Italian ended with 32 winners, but a tally of 50 errors, and that cost him, while Zverev never lost a step in pace or power on offence or defence.

So Madrid remains Zverev’s most successful Masters, now a 15-2 record, and he proclaimed, not surprisingly, “I’m extremely happy right now.”

He added generous words to his opponent, too:

“You deserved to win this title as much as I did… Next week is Rome, your home town, you are one of the favourites there, and I’ll be cheering for you there as well.”

Both men now hot-foot it to the Eternal City, where Zverev again finds Nadal in his quarter. But spare a thought for Berrettini: he could face Tsitsipas in the third round and Djokovic in the quarters.

No-one ever said it would be easy.

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