Rome Day Three: Attendance Record at the Foro Italico
Despite a record-setting attendance growth at the Italian Open, many wonder whether it is a good or a bad thing for the tournament. Sometimes quantity doesn’t necessarily translate into quality.
ROME – The Italian Open announced today that this year’s tournament registered a new stunning attendance record with more than 208,000 spectators. While it is certainly an unbelievable achievement for one of the most traditional and evocative tournaments on the tennis calendar, it is also important to express a few doubts about how many of those 208,000 spectators attend the event to actually watch some tennis. Yesterday the grounds were so crowded and chaotic that I couldn’t help but notice occasional fans having a picnic with their family and friends, groups of kids on a school holiday trip and clueless visitors that didn’t know the difference between a tennis ball and a ping pong ball. I had the opportunity to talk to a few kids and the majority of them admitted that they decided to spend a day at the Foro Italico to enjoy the unquestionable beauty that the venue had to offer, but they didn’t particularly care for the tennis.
We can certainly appreciate the substantial growth concerning attendance figures and records, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the sport of tennis is now becoming more popular in Italy. Hopefully the success of the Italian Open will somehow translate into more fans that will start following tennis on a regular basis, but the general feeling is that most of the spectators at the Foro Italico attend the event for many different reasons that sometimes have little to do with the sport.
As I left the venue last night, I came across thousands of soccer fans that were celebrating Juventus’ win in the Italian Cup, after a bunch of fireworks disturbed the match between Muguruza and Ostapenko, who were desperately trying to maintain their concentration in the midst of an apocalyptic scene outside the tennis venue. Earlier in the day, Thiem and Cuevas had to deal with noisy elements as well, when a police helicopter kept flying over the Next Gen Arena. The helicopter blades were so loud that it was impossible to hear the umpire announcing the score through his microphone.
Speaking of the Next Gen Arena, I found it quite hilarious that 37 year-old Venus Williams was scheduled to play after Dominic Thiem, unless we take into consideration the fact that Venus’ first appearance in Rome occurred in 1998 and only 19 years have gone by since then.
I wonder how many of the 30,000 ticket holders that walked through the gates yesterday were actually able to watch any of the matches. Center Court can accommodate 10,000 spectators, the Pietrangeli Arena less than 4,000 and the Next Gen Arena 2,500. What about the remaining 15,000 ticket holders? Where can they go and what matches can they actually see?
During yesterday’s day session, the only competitive and enjoyable match on Center Court turned out to be Nishikori-Ferrer, while Nadal was on the court for only twenty minutes when his opponent – fellow countryman Almagro – retired after only three games. Kerber played a horrible match and quickly lost 6-4, 6-0 to the Estonian Kontaveit. At that point 10,000 disappointed Center Court spectators had nowhere else to go, and the grounds became even more crowded. The tournament organizers should be blamed for this mess as they could have easily moved another match to Center Court. An excruciating sun, an almost unbearable heat, thousands of party people around the grounds, endless lines at the restrooms: That was day three at the Foro Italico. At least it was a good day for the stands that were selling ice-cream and cold drinks.
Meanwhile, the results of the day indicate that head-to-head stats are not always reliable. And not only because the two world No. 1s literally embarrassed themselves in this tournament, but the results of the last two weeks were also promptly dismissed by this week’s matches: Wawrinka avenged the Madrid loss to Paire with a three-set win, and Halep easily dismissed Siegemund after losing to the German in Stuttgart. In my opinion Halep should never lose on clay. When she does, it’s because she usually beats herself.
In an Era of monster servers and giants such as John Isner, it is refreshing to see that “regular” athletes like Nishikori and Fognini can still be a factor. In their case, power is not necessarily an asset and finesse is an essential part of their technical ability. It will be interesting to see how Nishikori will fare against Del Potro in their first meeting on clay. Nishikori’s strengths are the backhand and return of serve, while Del Potro’s are the serve and forehand: It should be a great contrast in style. Both players suffered from major wrist problems throughout their careers, but they confirmed that they are now injury free. The winner will most likely face Novak Djokovic in the following round, unless the Serb stumbles against Bautista Agut in the round of 16.
Other notable matches will be Goffin-Cilic (or shall we say, David versus Goliath), Berdych-Raonic and Fognini-Zverev.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )