Editor’s Note: This article was translated from ATPTour.com/es.
A tennis player’s most feared adversary is perhaps one that never wields a racquet. Injuries are the most unpredictable blight any sportsman can suffer throughout his career, and Matteo Berrettini has recently had first-hand experience of them.
In 2022, the Italian underwent wrist surgery, fought COVID-19 and recovered from a problem with his left foot. Berrettini was sidelined from the ATP Tour for several months.
However, the current No. 14 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings has been working hard to return this season with a vengeance. One of the professionals that has helped him with his recovery, physiotherapist Ramon Punzano, revealed to ATPTour.com details of the last year, his relationship with Berrettini, and the strengths that have made him one of the best players in the world.
Ramon Punzano (far right) celebrates with Team Italy at the 2023 United Cup. Credit: Tennis Australia
“Players fear not being able to return to their previous level. It generates a slight air of tension, concern, it’s not an optimistic environment, that’s normal,” explained Punzano. “From a personal and professional point of view, you’re trying to bring calm to the situation, you try to be as positive as possible in moments of adversity.”
Early in 2022, Berrettini arrived in Melbourne and romped to the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Following that run, he reached a career-high No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. When the Italian was in the form of his life, a wrist injury forced him to go under the knife, shortly after Indian Wells in March.
“It was a tough blow,” Punzano admitted. “The recovery was better than expected and even I was a little surprised at how we progressed so quickly, but the injury dictates how quickly you can go. You have to listen to it, and if it lets you, you have to accelerate as quickly as possible.”
The Italian and his team shifted their sights to the grass-court swing. In 2021, he was a finalist at Wimbledon (l. Novak Djokovic), meaning he would have to defend a significant haul of points this past summer. The Boss Open, which is held in Stuttgart, Germany, staged Berrettini’s return to the court in June.
“We managed a good start to the grass swing. In Stuttgart he won, and also at Queen’s. We were very confident of doing well at Wimbledon, like the previous year, but COVID-19 sidelined him,” Punzano said. “In September he picked up a foot problem, which meant he missed several tournaments and was unable to play until the doubles in the Davis Cup Finals.”
Despite reaching the final in Gstaad and the quarter-finals at the US Open, the lack of continuity ruined a great season for Berrettini, every time he was able to take to the court. “It was a bittersweet season, with some great moments and other very tough ones. Of the years I’ve been with Matteo, it was the most difficult. It was very up and down,” Punzano said.
Punzano joined the Italian’s team at the end of 2019. The Valencian specialist had 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 Finals.
In more than three years of working together, the Spaniard has had plenty of time to get to know one of the best players on the ATP Tour during that time. What has surprised him most about Berrettini?
“In terms of sport, having seen and worked with all kinds of players, Matteo has something that characterises the greats a winning mentality,” Punzano answered without hesitation. “Believing that he can win any match, that he has the weapons to beat any opponent and to really feel that inside.”
Off the court, Berrettini has a series of virtues that, in some way, also help him to be stronger with a racquet in hand. “He’s a pretty empathetic person,” explained Punzano. “He is always thinking of others. He understands that if we are all happy and comfortable in our work, it will make us give our all for him.
“He’s also a humble guy. He accepts the opinions and criticisms of the members of the team in order to try and keep improving. He doesn’t think he’s always right, he has a great capacity for reasoning. He likes and needs to understand why he does things, what the reason and criteria are for working on a certain thing. When he understands it and considers that he needs to work in a different way, he accepts that.”
Matteo Berrettini greets fans in Brisbane at the 2023 United Cup. Credit: Tennis Australia
Those virtues have been fundamental in dealing with the age-old foe of injuries.“Thanks to that humility and mental strength, we’ve been able to handle it as well as possible,” Punzano said. “Even though it’s not nice for anyone. For the player or the staff. They 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 that the Italian has clung onto in order to stay afloat in stormy waters. “When a great player is injured and they know they will miss a certain number of weeks, of course initially they are in a state of pseudo-depression,” Punzano said.
“You have to try to help them through that situation, explain to them how things will progress, help them understand the problem. That relieves their anxiety and they start to see the future with more optimism,” Punzano revealed. “But you have to get your head down and work hard, because there’s nobody to praise you. There are no spectators, no fans, none of that. It’s not a situation where you’re going to get much support. You really have to trust your team, and just think about the fact that the only way forward is hard work and daily recovery.
“As soon as the player sees what you have explained to them, they start to produce, they change a lot and relax. What was previously an act of faith, now starts to become reality. That gives them a lot of optimism,” Punzano shared of the period which the Italian hopes to have seen the back of.
Early in 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-teams event.
“We’re optimistic and excited and we are confident he can recover and return to his previous level,” Punzano concluded.
Two wins over Top-10 opponents, such as No. 3 Casper Ruud and No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz —as well as a close three-set defeat to No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas— have brightened the light at the end of the tunnel. Berrettini is once again feeling competitive against the best in the world.