Matteo Berrettini has turned from dreamer to believer and knows he has the game to stop Rafael Nadal's record pursuit in Friday's Australian Open semi-final.
Berrettini can end Nadal's quest for a 21st grand slam crown with two more wins at Melbourne Park, allowing the Spaniard to move one title clear of injured Roger Federer and deported Novak Djokovic.
The pair have surprisingly crossed paths just once on the ATP Tour - in the semi-finals of the 2019 US Open.
Nadal was a comfortable straight-sets winner in New York en route to a five-set final triumph over Daniil Medvedev.
In a neat twist, Berrettini had to overcome Gael Monfils in an epic five-set battle in the quarter-finals, just as he did in Melbourne this week.
The 25-year-old admitted he was happy in 2019 just to make the final four at Flushing Meadows and to play Nadal.
But after making the Wimbledon final last year, the Italian seventh seed won't settle for less than a win.
"Before my first semis in the US Open, I didn't really think that I could have done so much," Berrettini said.
"I watch him (Nadal) so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him.
"Playing with him in Rod Laver in semi-finals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid.
"But now I really want to win this match and I know I can do it.
"I'm in the semis in a slam for the third time, so it means that this is my level and I want to get further."
Nadal also had to grind out a tough five-set win over Denis Shapovalov which he said left him feeling "destroyed physically".
"I think it's important to have these two days off after a brutal match out there," the 35-year-old Spaniard said.
"The conditions were hard."
Nadal is aware of Berrettini's growing self belief and how his game has evolved since their only meeting.
"Matteo, he's one of the best players of the world," Nadal said.
"I need to play my 100 per cent and my highest level if I want to keep having chances to fight, to be competitive, and to try to be in the final."
While Nadal boasts 20 major titles, the Australian Open hasn't always been kind - after defeating Federer in the 2009 final he's lost four championship deciders (2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019).
He said another title won't decide his happiness - that was already assured by just being able to play again following last year's foot injury that threatened his career.
"Of course the last six months, more, there have been a lot of doubts if I would be able to keep going," Nadal said.
"But now I feel good, no? We are in a position that we won a tournament, we are in semi-finals of Australian Open, so that's amazing for me."
Australian Associated Press
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