Updated2/5/2021 11:04:00 PM
One year ago, the Italians did not advance out of the group stage of the ATP Cup. Now, they are into the championship match against Russia.
Matteo Berrettini sealed his country's spot in the final on Saturday with a 6-3, 7-5 victory against Roberto Bautista Agut, giving Italy an insurmountable 2-0 lead against Spain. Earlier in the day, Fabio Fognini clawed past Pablo Carreno Busta 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Berrettini said in his on-court interview. "Last year I couldn't make it, so I'm really happy that the first time that I played we are into the final. The job is not done yet, but we are really happy for what is happening."
Berrettini has been a star for Italy in this ATP Cup, going 3-0 in singles and partnering Fognini in a deciding doubles victory against Austria in Group C play. The World No. 10 has beaten three of the top 13 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings without losing a set.
"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling pumped. I'm feeling great to play not just for me, but for my team and for Italy in general. That's what matters the most," Berrettini said. "I'm really looking forward to playing tomorrow."
The 24-year-old used a combination of controlled aggression and finesse to battle past the Spaniard after one hour and 26 minutes. The Italians jumped up and down in a huddle in their Team Zone after the match, celebrating their triumph. Russia, led by Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, awaits in the final.
"For sure it's a final, so we are the two best teams. These two guys, they played unbelievable at the end of 2020. They're still playing really good, but it's a final, anything can happen," Berrettini said. "They are great players, but we also have a great team, so it's going to be a tough one."
Berrettini now leads Bautista Agut 4-1 in their ATP Head2Head series, with each of his four victories coming in straight sets. Bautista Agut took a medical timeout after the first set, but that did not stop the Spaniard from battling hard. The 32-year-old added more pace to the groundstrokes to try to push the Italian back.
But Berrettini, who bulldozed his way through the opening set with his power, used his backhand slice and drop shot to great effect, and seized the deciding service break with a tremendous forehand passing shot.
Fognini responded to every challenge thrown his way in the No. 2 singles match to give Italy a 1-0 lead in its ATP Cup semi-final against Spain.
Fognini clawed past Carreno Busta 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in a roller coaster battle that lasted two hours and 21 minutes. The Spaniard had won their seven previous ATP Head2Head meetings.
"I'm happy because of course this week I started slowly and I'm getting better and better," Fognini said on court. "The sensations are good."
After getting broken in the first game of the match, Fognini appeared concerned as he had the trainer visit to re-wrap his left ankle. But while the number seven was a bad omen for the Italian against Carreno Busta entering their No. 2 singles match, it proved a lucky number for Fognini at Melbourne Park.
The World No. 17 won seven seven consecutive games to seemingly take control of the match. Fognini was playing with controlled aggression, while the always steady Carreno Busta was making uncharacteristic unforced errors.
However, the rain threw a wrench in Fognini’s plans. At 1-0 in the second set, a delay of about 30 minutes changed the momentum. The players switched roles upon the resumption of play, with Carreno Busta back to his steady self and Fognini misfiring.
"I was playing really good tennis in the first set and then thats when we closed the roof. But I think I played three, four games in the second set really, really tight," Fognini said. "I was feeling really great even if I was losing those games. In the third set I think I played good tennis again."
With national pride on the line, the Italian maintained his composure and found his game early in the deciding set. He began showing the jaw-dropping shotmaking that helped him crack the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2019. But Carreno Busta, who was advised by captain Pepe Vendrell, coach Samuel Lopez and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal in Spain’s Team Zone, rallied from a double-break down in the third set to get within two points of getting back on serve.
While the Spaniard saved three match points on his serve, he was unable to hold off Fognini. The Italian's firepower proved decisive, and he finished off his victory with a perfect backhand drop volley. Fognini began his week with a straight-sets loss against World No. 100 Dennis Novak of Austria, but he has found his rhythm at Melbourne Park.
Spain did not play the doubles match, making the final tie score 3-0.