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La Golden Era del tennis maschile italiano

Many titles, potential champions and new tournaments: the Italian tennis has returned to shine

La Golden Era del tennis maschile italiano  Many titles, potential champions and new tournaments: the Italian tennis has returned to shine

It's Monday, 25th of July 2016, Paolo Lorenzi has just won his first major tournament at Kitzbuhel at the age of 34 and Fabio Fognini won in Umag, while Marco Cecchinato (probably unaware of what the future holds for him) is disqualified by the FIT Court for a bad match-fixing story happened the previous year, when he voluntarily lost during a Challenger tournament in Morocco. The ATP ranking is merciless (three Italian tennis players in the top hundred positions: Fognini 33rd, Lorenzi 41st and evergreen Andreas Seppi 51st) and it says a lot about the status of Italian men's tennis, even more so if we look at it now, just three years after. A stagnant movement, whose top ambassadors are a 29-year-old, a 34-year-old and a 32 year old, desperate for a clear generational change after the many disappointments of the baby talents who never blossomed (Gianluigi Quinzi above all) and many complementary problems no less important, such as the disgraceful episode remedied by Fognini at the US Open 2017: no, not the unexpected defeat in the Italian derby against Travaglia but the expulsion (could have been much worse!) received because of sexist insults against a chair judge.

It seems like a lifetime ago, given what is happening these days: not only has Fabio Fognini entered the Top 10 thus fulfilling the dream of a life that until a few months ago seemed unattainable for a thousand reasons, but actually the Italians in the Top 100 are seven, and up until a few weeks ago three of them were stationed among the best thirty. Each with a different story, each with a different brilliant achievement behind, but equally astonishing. And it seems that the best is yet to come. 

Many exploit

It was Fognini himself who admitted that it was precisely the Flushing Meadows' episode that made him touch the bottom, the lowest point from which to go back to focus, step by step, on that 12th place that would have allowed him to hit his best ranking. To this must be added the new motivations arrived from the internal competition and the different consciousness to be husband (of Flavia Pennetta) and father (of Federico): the splendid climb of the Ligurian tennis player, who also managed to file (not yet completely eliminate) some unacceptable behavior on the court that, unfortunately, made him famous worldwide, starts from that desire to not hear anymore repeating 'you're a top ten tennis player, but your head ...' and show everyone that his talent had prevailed over the rest. In addition to being much improved on hard surfaces (otherwise does not beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the Los Cabos final, summer 2018), 'Fogna' placed the cherry on the cake at the last Montecarlo tournament, even winning the tournament after defeating, and also humiliated, Rafael Nadal in the semifinals: a historic success for Italian tennis since no one before had managed to conquer a Master 1000, which has in fact opened him the doors of the Top 10 conquered soon after. If the goal centered by Fognini was however in some ways possible, even if very hard to be achieved, Marco Cecchinato's exploit at Roland Garros 2018 was anything but a predictable result: the Sicilian tennis player has 'simply' lived six months of absolute sporting grace and omnipotence that quickly led him from the most improbable courts in Europe to the French Open semi-finals, an unstoppable path that led him to the 16th position in the world, making him jump to the news as the surprise of the year. Cecchinato, defeated only by Dominic Thiem in Paris, also had time to win the Budapest, Umag and Buenos Aires titles by playing a creative and effective tennis, sometimes unplayable, before sinking beyond 60th position due to the prolonged black-out that has lasted for months now. He has recently parted from his coach, but we are sure he will return to certain levels.

If Cecchinato has moved away from the Top 20, Matteo Berrettini has done the reverse path: the young tennis player from Rome is proving to have the right maturity to keep the promises that were made about him, and has already won three ATP titles in less than a year playing a completely different tennis from the two Italian colleagues, very solid and practical. But paradoxically what makes us really believe in this guy are his skills (he's a big server, so we can't wait to see him at work on hard courts) and his mentality: he recently suffered an unforgettable defeat, in just over an hour on Wimbledon Central against Roger Federer, and precisely from this dramatic knockout he will start again: according to McEnroe (not really the last character) he will be into the Top ten until the end of the year. Today he's the number 12 in the Race and has shown to be able to stand up to much more valued opponents: we'll see.

The list of Italian players on fire is not finish yet and we should extend it thanks to the recent performances of the 24 year old Lorenzo Sonego and the oldest colleague Thomas Fabbiano, 30, two tennis players who gave us great pleasures on a surface historically hostile to our tradition, grass: the first won in Antalya and entered the Top 50, the second for the second year in a row played a great Wimbledon, and after Wawrinka he manage to beat another star, Tsitsipas. The Sicilian Salvatore Caruso has recently appeared from the tough scenario of the Challengers' world, which in Umag has reached a semifinal that was so unexpected but fully deserved: another Italian who will soon make his entrance among the world Top 100, another potential surprise. Even the numbers confirm the growth trend: 7 Italians hit at least one semi-final in 2019 but above all, if we consider the recent victory in the first round of Gian Marco Moroni in Gstaad, the count says that 13 Italians have won at least one ATP match in the season. Very well.

The future

If today there is only to be happy with the current situation, the future makes us even more optimistic: in addition to monitoring the evolution of Berrettini (who is just 23 years old), the Italian hopes are already all projected on a young South Tyrolean who Riccardo Piatti has already contributed to introducing in the major circuit, making him train with adult champions: he's Jannik Sinner, is just 17 years old and has already been talked about himself, not only in Italy. The South Tyrolean has already showed off his class during the first Challenger appearances, for example by winning the Bergamo tournament, entering in the main draw with a wild card and beating more highly rated opponents, then he even passed the first round at the Italian Internazionali d'Italia, defeating the American Johnson. If the ranking (he has just entered the Top 200) is already smiling at him, what makes him most hopeful is the coldness with which he manages the games, and his emotions. In a future projection, a gradual, but ideal, path is going on, one that all the greatest have experienced: this is why it's legitimate to expect so much from him, even if it still takes time. But the South Tyrolean is not the only great talent that has already been put on show: there are the two Romans, and also peers Gian Marco Moroni and Liam Caruana (born in 1998) who have alternated great results with less happy periods, there is the young Francesco Forti who is recently giving the first joys but there are above all Lorenzo Musetti and Giulio Zeppieri, who at the moment seem to havee a completely different fabric. Musetti, number 1 in the juniores ranking, has already won the Australian Open 2019 and made the final at the US Open 2018, and is taking his first steps in tennis along with his predestined friend Zeppieri, another Roman who promises so much.

 

The tournaments

The renaissance of Italian men's tennis does not only go through great results on the court, but also thanks to the logistical and organizational development that has greatly enriched the Italian offer: if until a few years ago the Internazionali d'Italia were the only top event held in Italy (after Rome, nothing until the Challenger of Caltanissetta, the second richest tournament in the country!), in November 2016 the ATP decided to assign Italy (and precisely to the FIT and CONI) the organization of the NextGen Finals, a mini tournament dedicated to the best Under-21 players in the world held in Rho, in the Milan suburbs. The first two editions of the 'younger brother' of the ATP Finals (the Italian editions will be at least three others, and in all of them there will be the presence of a Italian tennis player among the eight participants) were a great success, but above all a confirmation that the Italian people really need of such a showcase.

The other big news is the ATP Finals, which will take place in Turin's PalaAlpitour from 2021 to 2025: after months of negotiations, the Piedmontese city has won competition from highly qualified venues such as London, Manchester and Singapore and will host the tournament among the best 8 tennis players in the world, for the first time in Italy. Probably we have not yet realized the extent of the 'bargain', but in the meantime another great proposal has come forward and is likely to materialize soon: we are talking about the Monza ATP 250, which aims to start already in 2020. The idea is crazy but extremely ambitious: in fact, there are almost ready every detail for the presentation of the tournament that will be on grass (yes, you read right), that has a very high prize money and that will rise right inside the historic racetrack, an absolutely unique location. The negotiation is already in an advanced state, and after the recent site check, only the green light is expected by the ATP. A matter of days, in the meantime we keep our fingers crossed: the worst, for the Italian movement, seems to have passed.