REUTERS: Matteo Berrettini came up short in his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final on Sunday but the Italian said his performances in Madrid have given him belief he deserves to be competing for top-level titles against the best players in men's tennis.
German Alexander Zverev, who defeated claycourt specialists Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem en route to the final, lost his only set at this year's tournament to the 25-year-old before rallying for a 6-7(8) 6-4 6-3 win.
The defeat ended the hard-hitting Italian's eight-match winning streak on clay after he won the ATP 250 event in Belgrade last month.
"I really worked hard to be here. Now that I'm here, I'm upset I lost," the world number nine told reporters. "It's important for my tennis, for my level. Sascha won, not easily, but in two sets against Thiem and Rafa, and today (he) was struggling against me.
"This is definitely a good feeling and something that I have to use, to build (on) in my next tournaments. It hurts now, but I know this loss is going to be useful."
Berrettini said he had his chances against world number six Zverev and he was brimming with confidence going into this week's ATP Masters event in Rome and the French Open starting at the end of the month.
"I know and I feel that I can play this kind of tennis, this kind of level. I deserve to be here," he said.
"When I play and I use my weapons in the right way, all the players are struggling. This is something that makes me confident for the future.
"Once I'm healthy, I can reach my level, my best level. I think this week just showed that I can play this level. This was my first final. Hopefully it's not going to be my last."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford)