TENNIS – Whether you’re talking about Camila Giorgi, Fabio Fognini, Nadal or Federer, soccer, cycling, betting, journalism or commentary, Rino Tommasi always has the right answer. An interview with one of the greatest Italian journalist; a talk with a great sportsman, a former athlete that all tennis players have come to know as the “custodian” of numbers. By Claudio Giuliani, translated by Lorenzo Dicandia
On the phone, when he invites us over, he is always polite, even when he suddenly changes the meeting time. “My wife invited our children for breakfast – actually our lunch e.d. – and I didn’t know it, could we make it in the afternoon?”. And so, reaching the heart of Parioli in Rome, where parking is precluded unless you own a Burgman or a Smart, which absolutely dominates the streets around Piazza Euclide. We enter Rino’s elegant house. Books, books and more books, ranging up to the incredibly high ceilings in these old houses made of wood on the walls and carpets on the floors, with silverware on display. He is waiting for us at the threshold of his study, while we slowly cross the long corridor, drawn by the pictures on the walls, the story of Rino’s life. He comes towards us. “That is Henry Kissinger,” he tells us proudly, while his gaze remains on the picture that shows him interviewing the former U.S. secretary of State; an interview that granted him also an award. All photos are in black and white and all of them portray him with all the most important sports personalities, but also with some Italian celebrities. A color picture of a young Boris Becker smiling to him during an interview stands out. Below, there’s the picture that shows him together with Clerici, Scanagatta and a cheerful Roberto Lombardi. “We were in Melbourne there”, he tells us, looking tenderly at the departed friend. We sit in front of him in his studio, with the desk invaded by notes and books to divide among us. He has recently published a book on boxing, “Muhammed Alì. The last champion. The greatest?”, but, who knows why, we aren’t that surprised in hearing that he is already working on a new project (“it’s going to be about the disappearance of provincial soccer teams”).
Doping And Liberalization
We immediately start talking about doping, a matter recently raised by the words of Camila Giorgi’s dad, who said that since everybody in sports uses doping we might as well legalize it. Rino is a precursor of this theory, although he is not that convinced. “It’s a complicated issue in the sense that, from a certain point of view I would agree with a more rigorous approach, and so whenever you commit a mistake, even if it’s for small quantities, you should be banned. But I’m also convinced that if we actually check everyone, nobody would play anymore. Therefore, I have never actually taken a position on the subject and it’s not because I don’t care about it. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, even when I was young, and anyways when I used to compete I would have never thought of enhancing my performances in strange ways. The problem, from my point of view, is economic: testing everyone is impossible. If we did it, rigorously, we wouldn’t get out of there.” Assuming that doping would be legalized, wouldn’t there be a kind of race among athletes in order to get the best doctors? “Yes, paradoxically we could have some tournaments’ finals played directly by doctors, “ he answered, smiling. “It is pretty obvious that from a certain point of view I would like to be ruthless in tests and so also in consequences, in the bans, but I also realize that maybe we would paralyze the sport by acting this way. I don’t have an exact idea of the importance of the phenomenon, but I’m noticing that it is getting increasingly bigger.”
Some time ago a book came out, “Champions without virtue”, edited by Sandro Donati, a former athlete and responsible for mid-distance races for Fidal, the Italian athletics federation. In the book he tells the history of Fidal and of Primo Nebiolo’s time at Coni (the Italian Olympic Committee), when they used to sponsor doping thanks to the auto-transfusions by Professor Conconi, because medals had to be won at any cost. What do you think? “The athlete often agrees, and he finds himself forced to accept these method because he wants to win, and because he also has the suspect that the others are acting in the same way. Actually even federations, when they find out about some doping cases, prefer to turn a blind eye. Some executives have built their careers on the false achievement of doped athletes.” Rino himself is a former athlete, a tennis player, champion of various junior tournaments, following his father’s footsteps. “My father held the long jump record for many years; he competed in the Paris Olympics of 1924 and in the Amsterdam ones of 1928.” Was it Evangelisti and his magical 8.38 meters in Rome, measure that was later found out to be rigged, to break Tommasi’s dad record? Rino laughs as he looks for the best posture on his black leather armchair with brown armrests: “No no, the eight meters benchmark had been already achieved by Evangelisti but earlier than that, and legitimately it seems.”
Doping And Results
In Italy, until the 90’s, there was a kind of resistance in facing the doping issue. Why? “The press was reluctant, because every person that does this job hopes that the sport is clean. If you take away the legitimacy of the results, the sport dies.” Sport dies, therefore, but didn’t it already die with the various cases of Di Centa, Bugno, Moser (with Conconi that flew all the way to Mexico City just to give him blood transfusion, with the excuse of anemia, in the race that earned him the track record), Cipollini, Chiappucci, Pantani and so on? Haven’t we already lost the legitimacy of the results? “I repeat myself: it is a difficult problem because the issue is complex. Maybe, I am almost convinced, that after all it is a lot better to ignore things, even though this would compromise the health of athletes.” Let’s get to how the outcomes are affected. How do you handle things when, starting from Ben Johnson and Armstrong, and getting to Juventus, titles are revoked? Should they be reassigned to the runner-ups? “This is an unmanageable situation. This is why I would instinctively go for a rigorous approach. But, in doing so, with strict rules and absolute rigor, it could really be the end of sports activity, given the spread of the phenomenon. Today even young guys take doping substances, even boys that participate in school events. In tennis there is the matter of time because you don’t know how long the match is going to last, while you know that 1500 meters are going to be 1500 meters. At the end of this thing I am afraid, I deeply fear, that we will have to give up. It looks to me like a battle that legality cannot win.”
Donati however, tells also of athletes that refuse to take drugs. The problem, then, is cultural. “Definitely”, so, how can we improve? “Given that all the educational and teaching attempts are reduced to a mere recommendation to the athletes to do nothing, to be able to compete only eating bread and drinking water, then the reality is another. And when the levees break, setting a limit on what is doping and what it’s not, then it is, frankly, impossible.” Some claim that doping in tennis does not exist. “No, that’s not true. Some people resort to little helps, and then the players speak to each other in the locker room, they get advices from one another. Then there is always the fear of losing to one that makes use of doping. Nobody ever admits to have lost against a better player.” Yet players and associations, with the controls done at dawn and the introduction of the biological passport, feel fine. “They adopt these strategies to give the impression that they are defending themselves from this plague, but in reality they are not doing so. The tools necessary to make use of doping are available to everyone. For years, we have been witnessing the medicalization of the sport, even at an amateur level.” Jim Courier late in his career was going around saying that they were all doped. And if you were asking him why, he replied, “Because they run more than I do. No one runs more than me.” He laughs. “A cruel observation but all-in-all right.” What is your opinion of the Kostner case, the former skater accused of complicity and failure to report to the authorities in the story linked to her former boyfriend disqualified for doping, the walker Schwarzer? “The fact that there is a relationship of affection or intimacy does not absolve you from the complaint. It is a very much correct disqualification, every affiliated has a duty to report in case of illegal activity.” Doping or betting, what is worse for the image of the sport? “One would instinctively say that the worst issue is doping, but the other issue is moral, and it is the worst cancer but also the easier to eradicate. In betting there is a flow of money, so when you find them out, you can be relentless. But with the doping issue we are also talking about the health of the athlete and the credibility of the sport. Regarding the betting issue I am favorable to maximum rigidity, except that I do not think that there are players who lose on purpose: losing is against nature in the sport. “
Federer, Murray, Seppi, Nadal And The Doubles’ Slam
In his study Rino has the TV right in front of his desk, behind us, on the right. The images of the newscast scroll through the screen, muted to allow us to listen. I ask him if he followed the Australian Open. “Certainly,” he replies. “There were a few surprises. The results were very regular. I would say an ordinary tournament.” Is a tournament ugly when the main favorite wins? “Absolutely.” He does not agree on the idea that there is a revolution taking place, started by the success of Wawrinka in Melbourne in 2014 and carried forward by Cilic and Nishikori in New York. I ask then about Federer. “Federer is confusing me, he is resisting more than expected considering his age, but that’s all because of his talent.” And Murray, a recent protagonist in Australia? Here the expression of Rino becomes witty. “Murray is an interesting subject to be studied. Regarding natural qualities, I speak from the perspective of personal resources, he is a true athlete. He is one that is able to do 10% more on the day of a big match. Murray is one who can get excited at times, from an athletic standpoint. The problem is that during the year he loses 5 or 6 matches that he should not lose, because he obviously can not be always at his best.” Are we going to remember this Australian Open because of Seppi beating Federer? “It was not Seppi beating Federer, but Federer that can not play at his best because of his age.” But there was the big news of the doubles. “Forget it. No one plays doubles anymore, it is a consolation race. The good ones do not want to waste energy because they are not interested neither in the economic benefit nor in the athletic one coming from it and many of those who play it are not that serious about it, they just play a few matches.” And Nadal? “Nadal is at risk. In my opinion he can even get seriously injured. He pulled out all that there was to pull out from his body. He can also have drained his desire of competing maybe, after all he has solved the problem of life”, money.
Camila Giorgi And Italian Tennis
The star of the moment, also because of her presence in the first round of Fed Cup, is Camila Giorgi. What do you think? “She is a resource, she represents the new generation making progress.” Her father is sure that she is going to get to the top. “Her father is crazy, but in a useful way. He is a charlatan, but he raised this little girl, whom definitely is his creature. Camila Giorgi is almost a burden for the other teammates, for the relationship between her and the historical group, which, anyway, apparently are good. There is always going to be a bit of rivalry, it is inevitable. I do not think she has neither centimeters nor muscles to climb to the top.” The common vulgate says that she has to change coach to reach the top. “No, I do not agree. Her father is crucial.” Just like for Williams? “Exactly. Without her Camila is not going anywhere. Parents as Sergio or Richard Williams are bulky but fundamental figures. They exert a power that is beyond the one of the coach, or the parental, and this can be devastating but also vital, useful”. I tease him on the alleged crisis of talent among the males, at the highest level. “Talents exist. We have been fortunate to find Panatta, an extraordinary talent with a great hand”, he says, mimicking the gesture of the forehand with his right hand in the air. “Then there were those like Barazzutti, who through hard work have achieved results. Anyway in the history of Italian tennis I do not remember a player about whom we can say: ah, if he only did better he could have achieved great things. I can not find many players who could have changed much of their career.” Inevitable final note on Fognini, our best player. The jaw stiffens: “I do not like Fognini”, he says in a lapidary way, as if to say: let’s close the topic here.
Panatta, Tv And Clerici
You talked about Panatta, recently returned to the commentary on TV. Many listeners have branded him as superficial. “But he is like that. All in all it is not an entirely wrong attitude. Of course, Adriano, leans on his popularity. I don’t want to take the example of my case and of the one of Clerici, but let’s just say that we have studied more.” The problem, for him, is that television executives, are unqualified in the choice of the commentators. “What is lacking in many TVs, for example, are the leaders. Until I was there I got to work with Lombardi and Scanagatta, I mean, I am talking about two amazing commentators. Now, however, the concern of these leaders is finding the great name, to draw the attention of the public.” One last thing: who was a better player between you and Gianni Clerici? “I am convinced that I was better than him, but I cannot tell this to him. We never met in a tournament; I was stronger athletically, but he had more talent than me. “
Rino smiles amused, asking us how we got attracted to tennis. He seems interested, and after a more relaxed, easygoing and outside of the journalism’s boundaries chat, he talks bout his collections of books, of his hundreds of yearbooks on football and tennis that are sorted on the shelves. Well, if you do a search on something that is not on the internet, Tommasi’s house, and Rino himself, are your solution.
Translated by Lorenzo Dicandia
How To Face 67 Aces And Still Win The Match
Thomas Fabbiano explains how he overcame the tidal wave of ace that almost drowned him during his match against Reilly Opelka
“To be honest, I didn’t really understand much of his serve. I still don’t understand most of what happened out there”. This is how Thomas Fabbiano started his post-match press conference after his 6-7(15) 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-6(5) victory against Reilly Opelka in the second round of the 2019 Australian Open.
The match was a tennis rendition of David vs Goliath, as 1.73m (5-foot-6) Fabbiano was facing 2.11m (6-foot-9) Opelka, who served 67 aces during the 3h14’ match but still couldn’t come out on top of his shorter opponent. Fabbiano didn’t know how many aces he had to face during the match, he had to ask the journalists in the room: “Sixty-seven? And how many did I do? Only two?” Yes, Opelka scored more aces with his second serve (3) than Fabbiano with his first serve (2).
Opelka’s final tally was the fifth-highest number of aces anyone has ever scored in a tennis match: the legendary 2010 Wimbledon first round between Isner and Mahut (113 for Isner, 103 for Mahut) takes up the first two spots of this special ranking, with Ivo Karlovic occupying position n.3 and n.4 (78 aces in Davis Cup against Radek Stefanek in 2009 and 75 aces against Horacio Zeballos at the 2017 Australian Open).
“It was a very difficult match, different from any other. I am very happy I was able to stay in the game and swallow all the frustration for, at times, not being able to touch the ball for many points in a row. The flip side of the coin is that I didn’t run that much in this match: I probably covered more ground doing my ‘walkarounds’ to find concentration rather than during rallies”.
The problem with facing Opelka’s serve stems not only from the sheer speed of the shot but also from the angle of attack which makes the ball bounce very high. On the second game, one of the aces saw the ball whizz past Fabbiano not on the left or on the right, but ABOVE his head: he just couldn’t get to the ball above him with his two-handed backhand.
“I tried to mix it up while returning, tried to give him different looks and change my strategy from time to time. On some points I would just pick a side and move as he struck the ball, on other occasions I would put try to read the direction, but not much worked. I focused on taking care of my serve and getting into the rallies, his groundstrokes need to improve a lot for this level of tennis”.
During the fifth set tie-break, Fabbiano was able to obtain two crucial minibreaks on Opelka’s first three points of serve, both times on the American’s first serve. “I decided to give him an even different look, doing something I had never done before: I positioned right outside the doubles alley while he was serving from the ad court. I wanted to let him know that if he wanted to ace me he had to go down the T, but he served wide anyway, and I managed to get the point”.
Although he is very happy he got the win, Fabbiano hopes he will not have to repeat a similar experience too soon: “If tennis was like this every day, I would never play it, and I would never be interested in following it. But fortunately for us, there are only a few players who play like that: Isner, Karlovic, and possibly Raonic. With a bit of luck, I won’t have to face any of them for some time”.
SPECIAL REPORT: The Fight To Preserve Andy Murray’s Legacy
Coach Mike James gives his insight into the significance Murray’s career has had on British tennis and the challenges that lies ahead for the nation.
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone might be the best phrase to describe the relationship between the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and Andy Murray.
Earlier this week Murray announced his intention to retire from the sport in 2019 with the possibility of the Australian Open being his final tournament. The decision ends a career that has rewritten history in British tennis. Murray is the only British man in the Open era to win Wimbledon, reach number one in the ATP rankings and defend an Olympic title in tennis. In total he has won 45 titles on the ATP Tour, including three at grand slam level.
“I can play with limitations but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” Murray said during an emotional press conference in Melbourne on Friday. “Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that.
“Not feeling good. Been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.
“Pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament.”
It is without question that the 31-year-old has been his country’s most successful player of all time, but how will his legacy influence the next generation? In November 2017 the LTA announced a 10% decline in participation levels compared to the previous year. Despite the successes of Kyle Edmund during that period. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey ranked the British Davis Cup team as the 32nd most popular sports team in the country. However, the younger the age group, the lower down the rankings they were placed.
|Millennials||Generation X||Baby Boomers|
|Popularity ranking among group||42nd||32nd||23rd|
Coach Mike James is well aware of the influence his compatriot has had on the sport. James has worked on the ATP World Tour with players ranked between 200-1000 in the world rankings over the past four years. Within the past 20 months, he has been working alongside Croatian Davis Cup player Ante Pavic. His role has taken him to an array of tournaments ranging from Futures level to grand slams.
“He’s been way more successful than Henman and Rusedski, who were excellent professionals. Henman was top 10 in the world for ten years, Rusedski made the US Open final. But Murray has done it all.” James said during an interview with Ubitennis.
“His impact as a career compared to his predecessors is by far better. He is the greatest British tennis player of all time.”
A legacy remembered, but not built on
It is no secret that the relationships between Murray and the LTA has been a rocky one. He once said in 2015 that it was ‘a waste of time’ to talk with the governing body of tennis because ‘nothing gets done.’ Meanwhile in Scotland, Murray’s birthplace, the Chief Executive of Scottish Tennis recently told the BBC that building on Murray’s legacy ‘has not quite happened.’
“We are way short of where we should be for indoor and outdoor courts,” Blade Dodds told BBC Scotland’s Sportsound on January 6th.
“If you compare us to England and the rest of Europe, we are about 1,000 courts short of where we should be per capita.
“If you look at indoor courts, providing that all-year-round tennis that is absolutely vital if we are going to be world class, then we have 109 indoor courts in Scotland, which is one per 48,000 people. In England, it’s one per 24,000 people.”
So what needs to be done now? According to Leicester-based coach James, the media will play a vital role. In order to maintain interest in the sport in Great Britain, the public needs to be made aware of the other players. Entering into the first grand slam of 2019, British No.2 Cameron Norrie reached his first ATP Final in Auckland. Meanwhile, Dan Evans has successfully come through three rounds of qualifying at the Australian Open to reach the main draw.
“If you look at France from their point of view, they are very jealous that we had Andy Murray over the last 10 years winning big titles.” He explained. “But they have nearly the most amount of professionals in the top 100, particularly on the ATP Tour, so I think tennis needs to stay in the news.”
“For sure Edmund, Konta and Norrie can keep tennis relevant and on the back pages for many years to come.” James added.
It is without a doubt that there will need to be a collective group of players to fill the void left by Murray with not a single British player yet to have a fan base as strong as the former world No.1. For example on Twitter and Facebook, Edmund has a combined following of roughly 65,700. An estimated 110 times less than Andy Murray’s total of 7.29 million.
Time for the women to show their stuff
Perhaps the future of British tennis lies within the women’s circuit. There are currently two British women in the top 100 and six in the top 200. More crucial is the fact that four of those are aged 22 or younger.
“If you look at the Fed Cup team at the moment, we have a very young team coming through. I think this is exciting.” Said James.
“We have Katie Boulter who has just broken into the top 100, and I think there are several girls – Katy Swan, Gabi Taylor, Francesca Jones, Harriet Dart – that can also break into the top 100 as well.”
James believes that the tides are turning and it is the female players that perhaps have the best chances of success in the future. At the upcoming Australian Open, four women are in the main draw – Konta, Boulter, Dart and Heather Watson.
“I think we could be having a shift from the golden era of men’s tennis with Andy, and moving into the women’s. From the men’s side, we don’t really have that many coming through apart from Edmund and Norrie.” He concluded.
Britain’s top 200 players (as of 13/1/19)
On the other hand, it can be argued that Jack Draper could be a big name in the future. The 17-year-old was a finalist in the Wimbledon Boy’s tournament and won three Futures titles during 2018. He is at a current ranking of 562 on the pro circuit and seventh in the juniors.
“What has come through is the way he has competed throughout his whole career,” world No.38 Konta said in tribute to Murray. “That is something which is very unique to him and we will probably be waiting decades for another person to be like that.”
Whilst the future of British tennis may be a bit murky, there is one thing for certain. Murray’s service to British tennis will end soon. Whether that will be at the Australian Open or Wimbledon remains to be seen.
Only time will tell if his legacy in the sport has been one others have been able to capitalise on.
Murray will take on Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round at Melbourne on Monday.
EXCLUSIVE: Mario Ancic ‘Surprised’ By Use Of Clay At Davis Cup Final
Ubitennis has caught up with the former Wimbledon semi-finalist in Lille ahead of crunch day for both nations.
Former World No.7 Mario Ancic has said the decision to play the Davis Cup final on clay is one that has caught him off guard.
Ancic voiced his opinion about the playing surface shortly after France revive their titles hopes with a crucial win in the doubles with the help of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The final is taking place at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, which is located in the Villeneuve-d’Ascq area of Lille. It is the first time final has been played on the clay since 2015. A decision that has puzzled former player Ancic.
“For me, the surface was strange. I was very surprised.” He told Ubitennis. “I think the idea was to choose the surface that our (Croatia’s) players were not the best on.”
“I was expecting either indoor hard or indoor fast court.” Ancic added.
Ancic is not the first person to question the playing surface. World No.32 Lucas Pouille has recently told reporters that he was initially ‘not in favour of playing on the clay,’ before having a change of heart to support the decision made by captain Yannick Noah. France are missing their three top singles players – Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils.
Like Pouille, Ancic is falling short of criticising Noah. The Croat has previously played in 18 Davis Cup ties over a 10-year period. He was part of the 2005 that won Croatia’s first and so far only title in the team competition.
“I think Noah is an experienced player and an experienced captain, and he has picked the team he feels is the best.” Concludes Ancic.
“Once you pick a faster surface, I feel France would have many more options.”
Croatia currently leads France 2-1 heading into the final day. As for the line-up on Sunday, Ancic has backed Pouille and Herbert to play for the French team. Mirroring similar comments made to Ubitennis by another former player, Arnaud Boetsch.
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