After almost half a century without great players, Italian tennis is living a new golden age
Since the beginning of ATP ranking — dating back 1973 — only 41 Italian tennis players have made it to the top 100. But the good news is that ten of them are still playing at the present time. They proudly represent the new golden age of Italian tennis which began in 2006, under the sign of women players.
That year, Italy won the first of its four Fed Cups — the equivalent of the men’s Davis Cup — led by the Milanese talent Francesca Schiavone who, just four years later, would put her name in the hall of fame of world tennis by winning the 2010 Roland Garros. Before her, only two Italian tennis legends succeded in winning a Grand Slam tournament in singles: Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Panatta, always on the red clay courts of Paris. Those were different times, though. When Pietrangeli gave prestige to Italy in this noble sport founded by the British, there was no ATP ranking, but only an annual ranking drawn up by the journalist Lance Tigay on The Daily Telegraph. In 1976, Adriano Panatta, was the first to achieve the 4th position in ATP ranking, when he triumphed at the French Open, beating in the quarterfinals the Swedish legend Björn Borg. This position in the ranking, still reprents the best result ever achieved by an Italian tennis player, followed by Corrado Barazzutti (7th in 1978) and, hear hear, the 9th position reached last July by the Ligurian Fabio Fognini, diamond tip of the recent Italian men’s tennis movement coached by Barazzutti himself.
The ’80s and ’90s generations
Fabio Fognini, together with Simone Bolelli — with whom he won the Australian Open Doubles in 2015, Andreas Seppi and the now retired Filippo Volandri, are the most prominent Italian champions of the generation born in the ’80s, and the only ones able to compete with the international tennis giants. As a culmination of this golden age, last April Fognini won the Monte-Carlo Masters, part of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000. He is the only Italian who won this class of tournament, after the three victories by Nicola Pietrangeli in the ’60s.
Right behind him, the ’90s generation is seizing an important space in Italian tennis with skilled players such as Matteo Berrettini, Marco Cecchinato, Lorenzo Sonego, Salvatore Caruso, Stefano Travaglia, and the talented millennial, Jannik Sinner. Born in 2001 in South Tyrol — just like Andreas Seppi — last February he became the first Italian minor tennis player to win an ATP Challanger Tour. Among those, other great records have been achieved by the Sicilian Marco Cecchinato, as he made it to the Roland Garros semifinals in 2018 (after a great tournament interrupted only by the Austrian star Dominic Thiem), and by the Roman Matteo Berrettini, semifinalist in the 2019 US Open and fourth Italian ever to get this far in the Grand Slam Singles, 42 years after Corrado Barazzutti. Due to this exploit, Berrettini is now ranked 13th in the ATP Ranking.
The golden girls
As already said above, women have been crucial for the relaunch of Italian tennis — something that more generally applies to any kind of community or society. Indeed, in this new millennium more than ever, Italian women tennis players achieved historic, great results: the four Fed Cups (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013), the unforgettable triumph at the 2010 French Open by Francesca Schiavone — who is also the best Italian ever ranked in the Women’s Tennis Association reaching the 4th position, the all-Italian final at the 2015 US Open won by Flavia Pennetta against Roberta Vinci, and the magic Double team nicknamed ‘the Cichi’, composed by the same Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani.
Between 2012 and 2014, this Italian pair was able to win all the four Grand Slam tournaments, becoming the fifth couple in tennis history to complete the Career Grand Slam. As regards the Italian derby in Flushing Meadows at the 2015 US Open final, this was probably one of the best moments of Italian sports and a true reason for national pride. Flavia Pennetta, who one year later would marry her colleague Fabio Fognini in a perfect all-tennis wedding, was the oldest player worldwide to win her first Grand Slam Singles tournament, at the age of 33. In a twist of fate, her rival Roberta Vinci was also a childhood friend, being both born and raised in Apulia.
The era of the golden girls is now temporarily coming to an end. However, great hopes are placed in Camila Giorgi, a talented budding champ from Argentinian dad and Italian mum, beautiful and elegant like all elements of this wonderful sport.