Australian Open: Day 14 Round up - UBITENNIS
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Australian Open: Day 14 Round up

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The Italian Open through the eyes of an American writer

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Foro Italico 2014 (foto C. Giuliani)

American author Michael Mewshaw gifted UbiTennis with what he calls “an impressionistic piece I put together about the Italian Open,” a recollection of his past sojourns in Rome as a tennis correspondent, witnessing the apex of fashion, food, fashionable food, mayhem, and heckling. His three non-fiction books about tennis, Short Circuit, Ladies of the Court, and Ad In Ad Out are now available as e-books.

 

In an exhilarating rite of spring, I often attended the Italian Open.  This year the tournament takes place in mid-September like a farewell to summer, but because of Covid-19 I won’t be there.  Still, I remember years past when I returned to Rome to watch the grueling clay court matches and to participate in the fascinating spectacle that swirls around the periphery of the courts. If a city as multilayered and complex as Rome can be said to have a microcosm, then the Italian Open is it, compressing into a single week the essential elements of a 2,700-year-old metropolis that calls itself eternal, yet displays the frenetic energy of a fruit fly living only for a moment. All the Roman hallmarks are here—dazzling color and motion, dense golden light, copious food and wine, high fashion and low comedy, spontaneous friendship and rabid nationalism, grace under fire and ham-handed evocations of a real and imagined past.

The tournament site, the Foro Italico, bristles with conflicting signs of order and anarchy. The order is entirely architectural, emphasizing examples of high Fascist style. Built in 1935 during Benito Mussolini’s regime, the structures and statues and a tall obelisk, which still bears Il Duce’s name, were intended to remind the world of the grandeur of ancient Rome, which the dictator was determined to re-create. Instead he led the country onto the losing side of WWII, and the Foro’s broad slabs of marble now serve as benches or as billboards for graffiti.

The anarchy at the Italian Open doesn’t appear to perturb Italians, but it can be daunting to visiting fans who set a premium on linear reasoning. In the parking lot vehicles follow patterns and jockey for places in a fashion few Americans can imagine.  It’s like a jolly bumper car game.  Then at ticket booths and entry gates, where one expects to see lines, Italians tend to form jostling arabesques.  That won’t be the case this year, however.  Italian authorities have banned spectators from the tournament because of Covid-19.   

Once past the gates and onto the grounds, the crowd used to spread out and ogle not just the tennis, but the fashion show. It’s hard to say who is more elegantly dressed, the players or the spectators.  Often they wear the same outfits. Designer tennis clothes, in bold stripes or clinging pastels, are synonymous with Italy, and in no place are Fila, Ellesse, and Tacchini products better displayed than at the Foro Italico, where style, the creation of a bella figura, appears to be important to fans and players alike.

Bordered by Viale delle Olimpiadi and Viale dei Gladiatori, the field courts are set in amphitheaters sunk below street level, and the torrid air that collects in these hollows is thick with pollen, women’s perfume, and the aroma of garlic and oregano from nearby restaurants.  Surrounding Campo Centrale, the main show court, loom massive white marble statues of athletes. Ironically, they are all – even the skier and the ice skater – naked, and after recent renovations added seats at the top of the stadium, the statues appear to be comically inverted Peeping Toms who, while nude themselves, gaze into the bleachers full of completely clothed people.

On my first trip to the Foro Italico in the late 70s, an immense man with an even more immense voice stood up during change-overs and sang arias.  It was a man called Serafino cheering on Adriano Panatta, then the Italian Number One.  But not all of his countrymen are as artful at urging on their local heroes, and the history of the Italian Open has been marred by fans flinging seat cushions, soda cans and sandwiches.  On a few notable occasions, players have retreated rather than suffer the outrages that the crowd and Italian officials sometimes commit in support of local players. In 1976, Harold Solomon defaulted in the semifinals after getting a string of flagrantly unfair calls. Two years later, José Higueras, a Spaniard with a reputation for impeccable manners, walked off when spectators started hurling insults and coins. A day later, when Adriano Panatta played Bjorn Borg, the Swede held an unassailable advantage. He was used to people throwing money at him. Promoters and advertisers had been doing it for years. When Italian fans slung coins at Borg, he coolly pocketed the loose change before reminding the umpire that the default of the world’s most famous player would have hardly been a good publicity stunt for the event – he then proceeded to beat Panatta.

The outside courts lie at the bottom of an enormous oblong cavity styled on the lines of the Circo Massimo, Rome’s ancient chariot racecourse.  In years past,serious fans often remained standing on the walkway encircling the courts. This allowed them to shelterunder the umbrella pines that canopy the footpath. Up there in the shade the air is mild, while down on the courts, during long, hard-fought rallies, players shed rivulets of perspiration that speckle the clay with what looks like blood, calling to mindbullfights. Guillermo Villas, the Argentinian ace, once described the Italian Open in terms worthy of any matador facing death in the afternoon: “The sun is hot. The court is slow. The balls are heavy. It is not easy.”

In what now seems like a former life fans werefree to retreat from matches and sip Campari and soda.  Inrestaurants on the grounds, they witnesseda different kind of entertainment. Say what you will about Italians and their frequent indifference to northern notions of efficiency, they can certainly choreograph a meal. If the food falls short of gourmet standards, the show is never less than world class. As in France, eating is a religious ritual, but it’s low church rather than high, closer to a fundamentalist revival than to a solemn benediction. Each course is heralded by loud hymns of praise or blame, the clatter of dropped cutlery and plates, the fast-forward ballet of white-jacketed waiters shouting “Momento!” or “Subito!” as they scurry between tables.

By one of those screwy coincidences that abound in Rome, tennis at the Foro Italico during the 1980s could claim no better than second billing. On Viale delle Olimpiadi, in a gymnasium barricaded by sandbags and surrounded by armored personnel carriers, the Italian murder trial of the century took place over the course of three years.  While players bashed ground strokes back and forth, judges heard evidence against Red Brigades terrorists who kidnapped and assassinated Aldo Moro, the former prime minister. It was almost as if John Hinckley, President Reagan’s would-be assassin, were tried in a locker room at Flushing Meadow during the U.S. Open.  But in Rome nobody seemed to find this bizarre.

In 2020, with Rafael Nadal vyingfor his tenth Italian Open title, at least one thingmight seem utterly predictable.  But in Rome one never knows when some surreal or sublime incident will upset the odds.  I’ll stay tuned on TV thousands of miles away, tensely following what will happen.

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Andy Murray Set For 2017 Rematch With Wawrinka As Thiem Handed Tough Route In Paris

Dominic Thiem is given a hard draw at Roland Garros as Andy Murray meets a familiar foe in his first match.

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Andy Murray set for a 2017 Roland Garros rematch with Stan Wawrinka as Dominic Thiem handed difficult draw in Paris.

 

The Roland Garros draw has served up some tasty first round encounters with the main talking points taking place in the third quarter.

In that third quarter, sees a rematch between two grand slam champions from an epic semi-final in 2017.

Of course that match is Andy Murray taking on Stan Wawrinka in what is Murray’s first appearance in Paris since that match.

A couple of days ago, the duo were practicing in a sign of reminiscing their past, now they will do more than that when they take on each other in the first round.

However the tasty matches don’t stop there as the recent US Open champion Dominic Thiem has been given a rotten draw which includes a first round match against another former US Open champion, Marin Cilic.

Should Thiem beat Cilic then he could face tall American Reilly Opelka and Rome semi-finalist Casper Ruud before even getting to the second week.

Felix Auger-Aliassime, Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka could wait in round four for the Austrian while Rome finalist Diego Schwartzman could be a last eight opponent.

Gael Monfils and Alexander Bublik will also clash in the pick of the first round in the third quarter.

Thiem is also in Rafael Nadal’s half, the man who is looking to win a 13th Roland Garros title.

The Spaniard will kick things off against Egor Gerasimov with Dan Evans or Kei Nishikori potentially awaiting in R3.

After a promising first week, Nadal could face John Isner or Fabio Fognini in the last 16, with Alexander Zverev awaiting in the quarter-finals.

The German, who recently lost an epic US Open final, will begin against Dennis Novak, with Alex De Minaur awaiting Zverev in R3. While the pick of the first rounds in Jannik Sinner against David Goffin.

In the top half, Novak Djokovic will begin against Mikael Ymer as he is arguably the best player in the world right now.

Hubert Hurkacz and Karen Khachanov are likely to stand in his way en route to the quarter-finals.

Potential last eight matches include Matteo Berrettini, Jan Lennard Struff and Pablo Carreno Busta.

While Roberto Bautista Agut will face Richard Gasquet in the pick of the first round matches in the second quarter.

Finally in the second quarter Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are on a quarter-final collision course with each other but face tough opening matches.

Medvedev takes on talented Hungarian Marton Fucsovics while Tsitsipas plays Jaume Munar.

Denis Shapovalov, Grigor Dimitrov and Andrey Rublev are among those lurking in the second quarter.

A tasty two weeks in Paris are set, with the main draw beginning on Sunday in the French capital.

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Internazionali d’Italia Day 8 Preview: The Men’s and Women’s Championships

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Diego Schwartzman played one of the best matches of the year Saturday night against Denis Shapovalov (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

The top two seeds will play for the women’s title, while Novak Djokovic vies for his fifth championship against whatever is left of the phenomenal Diego Schwartzman.

 

The 28-year-old Argentine has reached his first Masters 1,000 final.  Less than 48 hours ago, he earned his first career win over Rafael Nadal.  And late last night, Diego played a spectacular, three-plus-hour semifinal against Denis Shapovalov.  Coming back to defeat the world No.1, who’s only loss this year was his own doing, seems unfathomable.  However, Novak brought his New York crankiness with him to Rome this week, becoming extremely frustrated on court.

This is the third Rome final in four years for Simona Halep, though she’s yet to obtain the winner’s trophy.  But the top seed is on a 13-match winning streak, and won her last two events played.  Her opponent is on a nine-match winning streak in Rome, and looking to successfully defend her title.

Simona Halep (1) vs. Karolina Pliskova (2) – 2:30pm local time

Halep leads their head-to-head 7-4, though Pliskova has claimed the last two.  They’ve split their two matches contested on clay.  That includes their most prominent encounter, in the 2017 Roland Garros semifinals, which Halep won in three sets.  Simona was pushed to the limit yesterday by Garbine Muguruza, with her semifinal lasting an hour longer than Karolina’s straight set win over Marketa Vondrousova.  But Halep should still feel fresh for today’s championship match.  She did not play in New York, and all her other matches this week were straight-setters.  Simona also should take a lot of confidence from out-dueling Muguruza yesterday afternoon.  Much like Garbine, Pliskova has looked better this week with every passing round, and will look to utilize her power to overcome the two-time Major champion.  By contrast, Halep will use her speed and returning ability.  And based on Halep’s current form, her third Rome final may be the charm.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8) – not before 5:00pm local time

This is the 10th championship in Rome for Djokovic, with a 4-5 record previously.  He’s actually lost his last three finals here, to Rafael Nadal, Sascha Zverev, and Andy Murray.  Schwartzman will be the first seeded player Novak faces this week, though his opponents have caused him much anguish thus far. Diego’s efforts have been remarkable, playing an astoundingly high level.  While Schwartzman is 0-4 against Djokovic, he’s pushed Novak in their two previous battles on clay.  They went to a final set three years ago at Roland Garros as well as last year in the semifinals of this event.  But expecting Diego to do so again today following his last two matches seems unrealistic.  Djokovic is the favorite to win his fifth title, and gain momentum just six days ahead of the French Open.

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