The decision to play India vs Italy Davis Cup qualifier tie on the lustrous green lawns of South Club in Kolkata was spurred on by the fact that the visitors do not consider the fast, slick surface as their preferred one. But on Friday, the kind of ease and effortlessness that the Italians showed in delivering a 2-0 lead, totally busted the myth that Italy is not good on grass.
With the exception of one set, Italy dominated three out of the four sets that they played. Veteran Andreas Seppi did have initial few struggles in gauging Ramkumar Ramanathan in their first ever showdown. Saving a couple of break points emboldened him so much that he earned three service breaks of Ramanathan immediately after that to seal a 6-4, 6-2 win.
World No. 102 Prajnesh Gunneswaran fared marginally better as far as the final scoreline is concerned. He managed to get seven games but that was all he could do. What was striking was how confidently the 53rd ranked Matteo Berrettini performed in his Davis Cup debut, en route to a 6-4, 6-3 win.
22-year-old Berrettini refused to show any nerve in the entire match. There was no hesitation, no uncertainty in his shots. Brimming with self-belief, he came roaring out of the blocks to break Gunneswaran in the very first game of the match to land a cruel blow on the hosts.
His fluid movement on grass gave an impression that he was really adept at playing on the fast surface.
A beaming Berrettini attributed it to the fact this was a childhood dream come true for him. For long the Rome resident had harboured a strong desire to represent his nation in Davis Cup and feel exactly those special emotions while doing national duty. Ever since his name was picked over World No. 19 Marco Cecchinato, he was waiting impatiently for this day.
That urge to go out and play with all your heart for the country was evident in the way Berrettini hit his shots with conviction. He wanted to make it a memorable debut and he put in every effort to make it one.
“When I was a child, I was dreaming of this match. I really enjoyed the moment and I used my strokes really well,” Berrettini shared in a candid confession.
“This was the first match of Davis Cup for me. For sure there was little bit of pressure. But I think Andreas did a great job and I felt less pressure. We decided before the match to play really aggressive and play as much as possible at the net. I think I did all these things really well.”
The fact that he was able to execute the non-playing captain Corrado Barazzutti's plans so well, made the 1976 Davis Cup winner think twice about Saturday’s doubles rubber. Originally former Australian Open doubles champion Simone Bolelli and singles exponent Cecchinato had been drafted in the doubles line-up to be played against India’s Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan.
But with the young Berrettini showing so much maturity and composure, Barazzuti wanted to keep the option open in doubles.
Clearly impressed with how his ward battled it out on the court, the non-playing captain said, “I told him to relax and try to play a better game.
“He played like a veteran even though it was his first Davis Cup match. He really had a great match.”
Other than the fact that Berrettini put up a sterling show on Friday, there could be yet another reason which might have influenced Barazzuti. The 22-year-old is a fine doubles player and has, in fact, tasted more success in doubles.
His two titles -- at Gstaad and St Petersburg -- on two different surfaces, last year validate that.
That coupled with Friday’s smooth display might just tilt the balance towards Berrettini, hinted Barazzuti. Under the Davis Cup rules, they will be able to make changes until 1 hour before the match on Saturday.
Barazzuti admitted that Berrettini’s inclusion will be the focal point of their team discussion and they are willing to mull over it.
“We still have time to discuss about that. We can change the doubles combination one hour before the match. We still have time to change the team,” he said.
If Berrettini indeed gets the green signal and can partner Bolelli to a doubles win, Italy will most certainly have found their newest tennis star.