Editor’s Note: This article has been translated from ATPTour.com/es.
A tennis player’s most feared opponent may be one who never handles a racket. Injuries are the most unpredictable scourge that can befall an athlete during their career, and Matteo Berrettini has recently experienced it himself.
In 2022, the Italian underwent wrist surgery, battling COVID-19 and recovering from a problem with his left foot. Berrettini was sidelined from the TBEN for several months.
However, the current number 14 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings has worked hard to return with a vengeance this season. One of the professionals who helped him in his recovery, physiotherapist Ramon Punzano, revealed to ATPTour.com details of the past year, his relationship with Berrettini and the strengths that have made him one of the best players in the world.
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Ramon Punzano (far right) celebrating with Team Italy at the United Cup 2023. Credit: Tennis Australia
“Players fear not being able to return to their old level. It generates a slight atmosphere of tension, concern, it’s not an optimistic environment, that’s normal,” Punzano explains. into the situation, you try to be as positive as possible in moments of adversity.”
In early 2022, Berrettini arrived in Melbourne and bumped into the semifinals of the Australian Open. After that run, he reached a career No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP rankings. While the Italian was in the shape of his life, a wrist injury forced him to go under the knife shortly after Indian Wells in March.
“It was a hard blow,” Punzano admitted. “The recovery was better than expected and even I was a bit surprised at how fast we progressed, but the injury determines how fast you can go. You have to listen to it and if it allows you, you have to accelerate as quickly as possible.”
The Italian and his team shifted their gaze to the grass track. In 2021, he was a finalist at Wimbledon (l. Novak Djokovic), which means he would have to defend a significant number of points over the summer. The Boss Open, held in Stuttgart, Germany, hosted Berrettini’s return to court in June.
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“We managed to make a good start to the grass swing. In Stuttgart he won, and also at Queen’s. We were very confident that we would do well at Wimbledon, just like last year, but COVID-19 put him aside,” said Punzano. “In September he developed a foot problem, which caused him to miss several tournaments and was unable to play until the doubles in the Davis Cup Finals.”
Despite reaching the final in Gstaad and the quarterfinals at the US Open, the lack of continuity ruined a great season for Berrettini every time he was able to enter the court. “It has been a bittersweet season, with some great moments and other very difficult moments. Of the years I’ve been with Matteo, it’s been the hardest. It was very up and down,” Punzano said.
Punzano joined the Italian’s team at the end of 2019. The Valencian specialist previously worked with ATP stars such as Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Pablo Andujar and also as a physio at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, the old Valencia Open and the Davis Cup final.
In more than three years of collaboration, the Spaniard has had enough time to get to know one of the best players on the TBEN at the time. What surprised him most about Berrettini?
“In terms of sport, seen and worked with all kinds of players, Matteo has something that is characteristic of the greats, a winner’s mentality,” replied Punzano without hesitation. “Believing that he can win every match, that he has the weapons to beat any opponent and really feels it inside.”
Off the pitch, Berrettini has a set of virtues that somehow help him to be stronger with a racket in hand too. “He’s a pretty empathetic person,” Punzano explained. “He always thinks of others. He understands that if we are all happy and comfortable in our work, we will give everything for him.
“He is also a humble man. He accepts the opinions and criticisms of the members of the team to try and keep improving. He doesn’t think he is always right, he has great reasoning skills. He loves and needs to understand why he things, what are the reasons and criteria for working on a certain thing, if he understands it and considers that he has to work in a different way, he accepts that.”
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Matteo Berrettini greets fans in Brisbane during the United Cup 2023. Credit: Tennis Australia
Those virtues have been fundamental in dealing with the age-old enemy of injury. “That humility and mental strength allowed us to handle it the best we could,” said Punzano. “Even though it’s not nice for anyone. For the player or the staff. These are tough moments in which you have to do a lot of work behind the scenes with the uncertainty of injuries.”
Punzano has provided one of the lifelines the Italian has clung to to keep afloat in stormy waters. “Obviously when a great player gets injured and knows he’s going to miss a certain number of weeks, he’s in a state of pseudo-depression initially,” said Punzano.
“You have to try and help them through that situation, explain to them how it will go on, help them understand the problem. That eases their anxiety and they begin to see the future with more optimism,” Punzano revealed. “But you must bow your head and work hard, because there is no one to praise you. There are no spectators, no fans, none of that. It’s not a situation where you’re going to get a lot of support. You really have to trust your team and remember that hard work and daily recovery is the only way forward.
“As soon as the player sees what you have explained to him, he starts producing, changes a lot and relaxes. What used to be an act of faith is now becoming a reality. That gives them a lot of optimism,” said Punzano about the period the Italian hopes he has passed.
At the start of this new season, Berrettini has already played a starring role in the United Cup, helping Italy reach the final of the first edition of the mixed-team event.
“We are optimistic and excited and we are confident that he can recover and return to his old level,” said Punzano.
Two wins over Top-10 opponents such as No. 3 Casper Ruud and No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz — as well as an almost three-set defeat to No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas — have lit up the light at the end of the tunnel. Berrettini feels competitive again against the best in the world.