From make believe to historic reality for Wimbledon finalist Berrettini

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Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian to reach a Wimbledon singles final on Friday and said it was an unbelievable feeling he is now playing and beating players he and his younger brother Jacopo pretended to be years ago.

Berrettini claimed a 6-3, 6-0, 6-7 (3/7), 6-4 win over his Polish opponent Hubert Hurkacz, who had knocked out eight-time champion Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

World number nine Berrettini will face Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final where he will attempt to become Italy's first men's Grand Slam champion since Adriano Panatta at the 1976 French Open.

The 25-year-old was watched as always by his Australian girlfriend and women's quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic and also his parents and brother.

His father Luca could barely watch, hiding his face behind his hands and then peeking through his fingers nervously, earning quizzical looks from Berrettini's mother Claudia and Jacopo.

Jacopo and Berrettini would play endlessly as young boys even inside the family home pretneding to be their favourite players to add to the "real life" experience.

"When we were kids, we were going on holiday, we were always bringing our racquets," said Berrettini.

"We played so many times, even without the ball, just pretending we were playing in our living room in a great final.

"We were pretending to be players that now I'm playing against."

Sadly for Berrettini that is as close as he will get to see them for the moment owing to the bubble the players exist in due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was still able, though, to see the emotion on their faces during and after the match.

"My brother, I never saw him like that!" said Berrettini.

"He couldn't believe it. That's where we're coming from. That's my family.

"That's our passion, I guess. Tennis is in my family. Also my grandparents are still playing.

"It's something we have in our DNA, and it makes me feel so good to have them here."

For Berrettini, there had been no finer day -- a 2019 US Open semi-final being the previous best showing at a Grand Slam.

"So far it is the greatest day of my tennis career. Sunday we shall see," he said.

"I am just proud to have carried the flag here."

- 'Believed in me' -

He is one win away from emulating Boris Becker in 1985 in winning the prestigious Queen's tournament on his debut and then Wimbledon a few weeks later.

"When I crossed paths with Becker, he told me to like have a long run in Wimbledon, you have to be like that, like this, try to do this," said Berrettini.

"I'm like, Okay, maybe this guy he stepped into Wimbledon and he thought about making the finals.

"I didn't think like that. I knew I could do it, but I didn't think I am going to do it because this is how I am."

Panatta, now 71, has been as enthusiastic an advisor.

"He texted me after my match with Felix (Auger-Aliassime his quarter-final opponent).

"We are in contact. He was one of the first big names for us (the Italians).

"He believed in me when I was a kid. I remember we played together a doubles in the club where I used to practice.

"It was such a nice experience. He told me, Look, I think you're going to serve 220 kilometers per hour.

"I look at him, I don't know if I trust you."

Berrettini's scepticism was soon blown away when he realised the pedigree of the man giving the advice.

"Then I saw the history of his results!" sad Berrettini.

"Obviously I said, Okay, maybe this guy is right. Then he was right.

"He texted me and he told me, 'Now that you're here, go for it.' That's what I'm trying to do."

pi/dj

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