italy

Wobbly Nadal, Resurgent Djokovic, Stranger Federer Ready For Intriguing Italian Championships

The Internazionali BNL d’Italia, or the Italian Championships in Rome, is the fifth ATP Masters 1000 event of the year and the last big test before the start of the French Open, the second major championship of the year. This year’s tournament is full of intrigue that will provide for many dramatic moments.

Perhaps the biggest surprise and question mark leading into the event is the form of Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” and eight-time tournament winner is in the worst clay-court slump of his career, winning only nine matches on his favorite dirt surface so for this season and had not even reached a final in his three previous clay-court events. He lost to Fabio Fognini handily in the semifinals of Monte Carlo, in straight sets again in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open and to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Is this spurt of mediocre play an indication that the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nadal is finally starting to wear down and perhaps may be closer to retirement than we think or will the Mallorcan channel his frustration and anger at poor results by his lofty standards that will he win for a ninth time in Rome and again later in Paris for a 12th time?
Last year, Nadal also wobbled into Rome, following a quarterfinal loss to Thiem in Madrid, but recovered to win his eighth title in Rome, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev in the final.

This will be his 15th consecutive appearance in Rome and he comes in with a 56-6 career record (8-2 in finals). He has advanced to the quarterfinals or better in 13 of his previous 14 visits to the Italian capital. Nadal will attempt to become the first player on the ATP Tour this year to defend a title from last season.

The Rome field features 17 of the top 20 players including former champions Nadal, an eight-time winner, Novak Djokovic, a four-time champion, and 2017 winner Alexander Zverev. These three account for 13 of the past 14 titles. Djokovic, fresh off his important win in Madrid, is aiming to hoist the Rome trophy for the first time since 2015, after losses in the final in 2016 (to Andy Murray) and 2017 (to Zverev), and a semifinal loss to Nadal last year. Last Monday started the 250th week the Serb was at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings.

The most intriguing entry in the Rome field this year is Roger Federer, who is making his first appearance at the event since 2016. It is one of the very few events in his career that he has not won. His last showing in Rome was a third-round loss to Dominic Thiem on May 12, 2016. That loss to Thiem was the Swiss star’s last clay-court match at any event until he played in Madrid this past week, where he reached the quarterfinals before falling to Thiem once again.

After his win on Monte Carlo, top Italian Fognini is on the verge of cracking the top 10 and is a legitimate contender for his home nation’s title. Fognini, however, is only 10-11 lifetime in Rome, with last year’s quarterfinal as his best result. The last Italian in the ATP Rankings Top 10 was Corrado Barrazzutti on January 22 1979 and Fognini would have to likely better his quarterfinal result to jump into the top 10. The last home country player to win the most prestigious title in Italy was Adriano Panatta in 1976.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece comes into Rome as the ATP Tour match wins leader, earning his 27th win of the season with his semifinal victory over Nadal at Madrid. Tsitsipas was ranked No. 43 at Rome in 2018, and had to qualify for last year’s main draw. His win in Portugal on the clay earlier this season and his final-round effort in Madrid make him a tennis betting contender for the title in Rome and later this year in Paris.

Turin, Italy To Be New Home For ATP Finals From 2021-2025

Turin, Italy, has been selected to host the ATP Finals from 2021-2025, the ATP Tour has announced. The five-year agreement will see the world’s greatest players in men’s professional tennis compete for the biggest indoor tennis title in the world at Turin’s Pala Alpitour stadium, Italy’s largest indoor sporting arena.

The winning Turin bid was put together by the Italian Tennis Federation and Sport e Salute SpA in partnership with the Italian Government, the municipality of Turin and Regione Piemonte. The move to Turin brings the ATP Finals to Italy for the first time in its 50-year history and makes Turin the 15th city to host the prestigious season-ending tournament since its inception in 1970.

Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman & President, said: “Our congratulations to Turin on putting together such a comprehensive and impressive bid. Italy provides us with one of the strongest and most established tennis markets in Europe and has a proven track record for hosting world class tennis events with the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, as well as the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. We’re delighted to expand on our successful partnership with the FIT and Sport e Salute SpA and we look forward to bringing the ATP’s flagship season-ending event to tennis’s growing fanbase in Italy for the first time.

“The success of the ATP Finals is critical to the health of the ATP and we believe that Turin has all the ingredients to take the event to new heights and to continue the tournament’s growth following a highly successful 12-year stint in London that will come to an end in 2020. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all our event partners in London, particularly AEG, and all the fans that have made the tournament such a success at The O2 since 2009.”

Novak Djokovic, World No.1 and President of the ATP Player Council, said: “The ATP Finals is the biggest and most prestigious event that we have at the ATP. It’s a tournament that has historically moved around and so I’m very excited to see it move to Turin from 2021. It’s still a few years away but I know that the players will be very excited to compete there, and I also hope to be part of what will be a very special event.”

Chiara Appendino, Mayor of Turin, said: “We are extremely proud that Turin has been chosen to host the ATP Finals 2021-2025 as sport has long been a significant part of the history and the culture of our city. As a City we will come together to harness the knowhow of a vast range of local experts in organizing international sporting events and we are confident that our unique combination of passion and experience will deliver opportunities to appreciate this exhilarating sport in sustainable and innovative ways. Turin looks forward to building a truly spectacular event for players and fans the world over!”

Angelo Binaghi, President of the Italian Tennis Federation, said: “The assignment of the great task to organize the ATP Finals in Turin from 2021 to 2025 represents a remarkable international success of our country. Our project has proved to be extremely successful thanks to the great work carried out together with the Italian Government and the local authorities. A team work which I am sure will live up to the wonderful tradition of the end-of-season historical Masters, and offer a very brilliant future”.

The unique season-ending tournament, featuring only the world’s best eight qualified singles players and doubles teams of the season, will boast a record prize purse of US$14,500,000 in 2021.

Turin was the first capital city of Italy from 1861 to 1865. The city has hosted some of the world’s biggest sporting events, such as the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, and is also home to two Serie A football teams, Juventus FC and Torino FC. The ATP’s decision brings to a close an extensive international bid process that began in August 2018 in which more than 40 cities worldwide expressed an interest in hosting the ATP season finale.

An official presentation with representatives from ATP, FIT, Italian government and City of Torino will take place in Turin on Monday 29th April at 12:30PM at Palazzo Madama, Piazza Castello.

My Friend, My Foe, My Countrywoman

Flavia and Francesca.

While the two might be in the wrong business to be known by a single stage name, there is no doubt that Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone have been the faces of Italian women’s tennis for the better part of a decade.

Despite having contrasting styles, each brings something unique to women’s tennis. Schiavone, no doubt the flashier of the two, is the master of an all-court game and a classic clay court style; she uses an extreme Eastern grip on her one-handed backhand, a dying art in women’s tennis. Pennetta, to her credit, possesses some of the most aesthetically pleasing groundstrokes on the WTA; she’s renowned for her great timing, clean strokes, tenacity and net skills. They are similar in one respect; each time they’ve taken the court, they’ve played with immense passion and heart.

They’ve triumphed individually; Pennetta was the first Italian woman to ever be ranked in the top ten in singles, win a major title in doubles when she triumphed with Gisela Dulko in women’s doubles at the Australian Open in 2011 and be ranked No. 1 in either discipline when she and Dulko topped the women’s doubles list; Schiavone became the first Italian woman to ever be ranked in the top five in singles and win a singles major title at Roland Garros in 2010. They’ve triumphed together; with a combined a 48-24 total record in Fed Cup, the duo led Italy to three titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010.

Each has had so many standout moments over their long careers that it’s difficult to pick just one. Aside from her major triumph, Schiavone will probably best be remembered for one of the highest quality matches in the history of the WTA, when she and Svetlana Kuznetsova contested the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history at the Australian Open in 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBbLO06fBCU&feature=youtu.be

Pennetta, a three-time US Open quarterfinalist, made the most improbable of her three runs in 2011. Following her third round defeat of Maria Sharapova, Pennetta rallied past Peng Shuai, dry heaves and the mid-day New York heat to advance to her third career US Open quarterfinal. Having witnessed the match live, I can scarcely think of many other times when a New York crowd so firmly and whole-heartedly supported a non-American player.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP7CnDWIhyQ&feature=youtu.be

In recent years, however, age and injuries have played their part. Barely hanging on to her spot in the top 100, Pennetta returned from a six month absence after wrist surgery in Acapulco, where Schiavone won back-to-back matches for the first time since Wimbledon. In that time, Italian women’s tennis had been overtaken by another dynamic duo.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci spent a lot of time during those three Fed Cup title runs cheering on the sidelines. However, they’ve taken the mantle vacated by Schiavone and Pennetta and firmly seized control of it. Errani became the second Italian woman to reach a major final, something some expected Pennetta to do. Vinci, despite being just a year younger than Pennetta, has had the best 18 months of her singles career. They show no signs of slowing down in doubles either, as they currently hold three of the four majors and are the undisputed No. 1 team in the world.

In the first round of Fed Cup, it was Errani and Vinci who singlehandedly led Italy over the United States and instead, Karin Knapp and Nastassja Burnett cheered from the sidelines. It was the first time neither Pennetta nor Schiavone were named to an Italian Fed Cup team in over 10 years; one or the other was always a constant presence since Schiavone made her debut in 2002, and Pennetta a year later in 2003.

On a Wednesday in Indian Wells, these two WTA stalwarts, Fed Cup teammates and friends took the court for a singles match for the first time in three years. After Schiavone defeated Pennetta 7-5, 6-1 in a non-televised match under the setting California sun, one couldn’t help but wonder if the sun is also setting on their time at the top of the game. Whatever happens at the end of this season, it would be fitting for two of the WTA’s strongest characters to leave the sport the way they entered it.

Together.

10 Reasons to be Excited for Davis Cup Weekend

The time has come!  While Andrea has done a great job breaking down the World Group match-ups, I thought I’d spell out for you the specific reasons why you should set your alarm for 5AM, skip work, cancel all of your social plans, and dedicate your entire Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to the wonder that is Davis Cup.

 

10. The Newcomers

It’s been 8 years since Canada has been in the World Group.  For Japan it’s been 27.  In both cases the newcomers, led by youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori respectively, will be looking to prove that they belong with the big guns.  Both teams have uphill battles- Japan hosts Croatia and Canada hosts France, but there’s nothing quite as exciting as fresh blood.

 

9.  Fedmania!

In a giant reversal of storylines, Federer is the only one of the “Big 4” playing in Davis Cup this weekend.  To top it off, he’s playing in Switzerland, against a depleted but still fun-to-beat American squad, and with good buddy Stanislas Wawrinka by his side. Love him or not, it will be fun to see the Legend soak in the well-deserved adoration and play in a team atmosphere on his home turf.

8. Russian Roulette

The Russian Davis Cup Team has undergone a bit of a makeover.  Alex Bogomolov, Jr. is not only making his Russian debut, but he’s the team’s #1 player.  Dmitry Tursnov and Igor Andreev, team mainstays, are absent while the struggling Nikolay Davydenko and the wildcard Igor Kunitsyn take their place.  Mikhail Youzhny is coming off singles and doubles victories in Zagreb, but has been complaining to the press about an injured shoulder.  All in all, there’s absolutely no telling what to expect from Team Russia as they travel to Jurgen Melzer’s Austria this weekend, and as always- that’s part of the fun.

 

7. Veterans Day

Some players have proven time and time again that they adapt to the Davis Cup atmosphere better than others.  Whether it’s Melzer leading his Austrian team, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek becoming mental giants for the Czech Republic, or David Nalbandian discovering the game (and legs) of his youth, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as seeing the veteran guys play their hearts out for their country.

 

6. The Battle of the Misfits

One of the ties I’m most looking forward to is Spain/Kazakhstan.  The Spanish Davis Cup stalwarts (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, and Fernando Verdasco) who have dominated the team competition for the past few years are sitting out this year, paving the way for their less heralded countrymen (Nicolas Almagro, Marcel Granollers, Legend and Former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Marc Lopez). Meanwhile Kazakhstan’s team is full of former Russians (Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, Yuri Schukin, and Evgeny Korolev) who migrated over to the neighboring country for a chance to shine.  It will be fun to see all of these former “back-ups” take the stage and fight for Davis Cup glory.

 

5. Tommy Haas

Do I really need to explain this one? The often injured but forever adored German (when he’s not American) is back in Davis Cup action for the first time in five years! How lucky are we?  Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

 

4. The Other Groups

Believe it or not, the World Group Playoffs aren’t the only Davis Cup action happening this weekend. There are some pretty crucial ties happening in “Group I” and “Group II” (don’t you dare ask me to explain what that means).  Teams in action that you might be interested in are: Ukraine (Sergiy Stakhovsky! Sergei Bubka- yes, Vika’s boyfriend!) vs. Monaco, Uzbekistan (Denis Istomin- am I the only one interested in him?) vs. New Zealand, Australia (Hewitt! Tomic! You know them!) vs. China, P.R., Great Britain (Murray-less) vs. Slovak Republic (starring recent ATP Zagreb finalist Lukas Lacko).  You’d be amiss if you didn’t scavenge for some (surely static) streams for the lesser-known teams this weekend too.

 

3. The New Heroes

Every year Davis Cup weekend, especially the first round, breeds unheralded heroes.  Something about the five-set format, the team unity, and the pressure/invigoration of playing for one’s country brings out the best in some unsuspecting players.  Who will it be this weekend? Could Milos lead the Canadians past the accomplished French team? Could the upstart Japanese make Davis Cup history against Croatia? Could the Swedish team find a miracle and cause the Serbian team to sweat? As cliche as it sounds, expect a new Davis Cup legend to be born.

2. Double Trouble

Davis Cup is the time for Doubles to shine, and this weekend is no different.  This weekend we have spectacular Doubles storylines: the reunions of fan favorites Fedrinka (Federer and Wawrinka) and Bendra (Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra), the eternal mystery of who the other Bryan Brother will be (Bob Bryan is home playing father duty, so either Mardy Fish, John Isner, or Ryan Harrison will take his place alongside Mike Bryan in Switzerland), and the always delightful Davis Cup return of BerdWorm (Berdych and Stepanek). Whether you’re a fan of doubles, awkwardness, hysteria, or just misplaced volleys, Saturday will be a special day for you.

1. The Cheerleaders

Let’s be honest- Davis Cup really isn’t about the tennis.  It’s about seeing the bromance on the benches as the fellow team members watch and frazzle along with us.  Nothing is as great as seeing a good cheerleader- whether it be Roger Federer on his feet urging on Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Carlos Ferrero fist-pumping a Nicolas Almagro winner, or John Isner and Ryan Harrison embracing when Mardy Fish gets to set point, there is no better reason to watch Davis Cup than to inspect the camaraderie on the benches.

NCAA Champion Cecil Loses In Opening Match at US Open

Despite losing in the first round of the US Open, Spartanburg native and NCAA champion Mallory Cecil chalks it all up to a learning experience.

Playing in front a packed crowd on Court 8, Cecil, who received a wild card into the main draw for winning the NCAA championships earlier this summer, found herself overwhelmed by the occasion and her opponent’s game. Committing 38 unforced errors, the American never managed to impose her game as she lost 6-0, 6-1 to Tathiana Garbin, the veteran player from Italy.

“I’m just really lacking experience at this point,” said Cecil. “This is all new to me and matches like these show me what I need to do to play against players at this level.”

Cecil, who turned professional this summer on August 14th, opened the match with two unforced errors as Garbin seemed content to guide down the ball the middle of the court, allowing Cecil to dictate the tempo of the match.

The American held a game point on her serve early on in the first set and held a break point one game later, but backhand errors cost Cecil the chance to get on the scoreboard, allowing Garbin to run take the first set, 6-0.

“With players like Garbin, it’s pretty much all up to you,” said Cecil. “I was trying to control the points, but also hitting shots I didn’t necessarily need to go for. It was tough to do anything with her slice because it stayed so low, but in order to be a top player, you have to learn how to handle anything.”

Cecil held serve to level the second set at 1-1, but it would be the only game she won in the contest. Committing unforced errors early in the rallies, Cecil dropped serve two more times before a missed drop shot sent Garbin into the second round on her first match point.

“I’ll obviously talk about the match with my dad and my coach, but obviously I need to try and put this behind me as quickly as possible,” said Cecil.

Despite the loss today, Cecil has shown potential this summer as she looks to break through the pro ranks. She reached the quarterfinals of a $50,000 challenger in Texas, and in the first round of a $50,000 challenger in Kentucky, served for the match against No. 63 ranked Julie Coin before losing in 3 sets.

“I can definitely compete against players in the top 100, but those were smaller tournaments and there wasn’t perhaps as much as attention as there was in this match,” said Cecil. “I’m just in a bit of a slump and need to try and move past it.”

Cecil said she plans to either play several challenger events in the US this fall, or head to France for a five week stretch of challengers. By this time next year, she plans to be in the US Open off merit, rather than a wildcard.

“By this time next year, I want my ranking to be high enough to get into the US Open qualifying (approximately No. 250) and then qualify into the main draw. Having a wild card was great, but I want to be able to do this on my own.”