The post-Federer funk that enveloped the U.S. Open late Tuesday night and into early Wednesday didn’t last long.
That’s because Matteo Berrettini, the 23-year-old from Italy with the monster forehand, and Gael Monfils, the entertaining 33-year-old fan favorite from France, staged arguably the match of the tournament across nearly four hours into the early evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
After five match points, Berrettini finally prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5(5) when Monfils hit a service return just long, prompting Berrettini to lay on his back behind the baseline before getting up, pounding his chest and embracing Monfils at the net.
“I was thinking maybe one of the best match I ever saw,” an exhausted Berrettini said on court. “I’m really happy, I don’t know what to say, guys.”
He can finally breathe!
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2019
With both Federer (back) and Novak Djokovic (shoulder) out after being compromised by injuries — and tough opponents — Rafael Nadal is the only member of the “Big Three” still alive in this U.S. Open. Nadal is set to play Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman Wednesday night in the quarterfinals, with the winner to get the huge-hitting Berrettini in the semifinals on Friday. Nadal is the betting favorite to win his 19th title on Sunday, which would bring him within one of Federer’s 20.
Against this backdrop, two 23-year-old young stars are now into the semis and both Berrettini and Russian Daniil Medvedev will be playing in their first major semifinals.
Berrettini is the youngest semifinalist since Djokovic in 2010, and Medvedev is only about two months older than the Italian.
Medvedev, the No. 5 seed who has been the hottest player on the tour this summer, will face 28-year-old Federer-killer Grigor Dimitrov in the other semifinal.
Both Medvedev and Berrettini have an opportunity to increase an already massive payday. They’re already assured of making $960,000 for reaching the semis. The winner will get $3.85 million, while the runner-up picks up $1.9 million.
For perspective, Berrettini’s career earnings coming into the Open were just under $2 million. Medvedev’s were just over $6 million.
There will be tennis after Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are no longer dominating, and for years the question has been, who will replace them?
Medvedev and Berrettini are part of a new generation that includes Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Sascha Zverev and potentially rising Americans like Frances Tiafoe, Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz.
The “Big Three” have combined to win 54 majors (and counting) and have left their mark on several younger generations.
“Yeah, to be honest, when you play the Big Three, as we call them, it’s always special because the one that has the least slams of them has 16 (Djokovic), which means four each year for four consecutive years, which is just unbelievable,” Medvedev said.
“I played all three of them this moment of my career. When you go out there and you even warm up with them, you feel that they have something better than us. Let’s call it like this.”
For now, Nadal is the only player left in the men’s tournament with a major title under his belt. If he advances, he’ll be a heavy favorite against Berrettini, but you’d have to give the big-hitting Italian a puncher’s chance.
Against Monfils, Berrettini banged out 15 aces and also had 53 winners against 64 unforced errors.
The key down the stretch was obviously Monfils’ serving struggles. He had 17 double faults in the match, five in a 10-minute span at the end of the fifth set and into the tiebreak.
“I like it, to be honest,” Monfils said. “I’m not a sore loser. I give it all today. I served bad, but I gave my heart.”
Berrettini went for a long ice bath after his match. As he did, Monfils was asked if the Italian can win the tournament.
“Today he had a great day,” Monfils said. “Hopefully recover good. And then I don’t know who he’s going to face in the semifinal. It’s going to depend how you recover, you know, how you get the confidence off this win and how mentally he’s going to be ready to take off the semifinal first.”
Federer and Djokovic are gone from this U.S. Open, and the young guns Berrettini and Medvedev are still around.
“The tournament is not finished yet,” Berrettini said, “so be ready for the next match, guys.”
This may be a glimpse into the future of tennis. After all, the “Big Three’ won’t be around forever.