Fognini And Panatta: History Repeats Itself - UBITENNIS
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Fognini And Panatta: History Repeats Itself

1976 was the magical year of Adriano Panatta and Italian tennis in general, which had not really shone much since the time of Pietrangeli and Sirola in the 1960s – a geologic period at a time when tennis was still an elite sport played only in few countries. Thanks to those two lads, but also to Beppino Merlo, Fausto Gardini and previously to De Morpurgo, De Stefani, Cucelli and the Del Bello brothers, Italy managed to assert itself on the international tennis scene.



After almost 15 years of competitive dimness – if not even darkness – it was the turn of a very talented young man from Rome, son of Ascenzio (the caretaker of the Tennis Club Parioli), to light up the prospects of a tennis landscape that had not really been tinged with “azzurro”. In his early 20s, that authentically Roman, handsome young man, whom during the time of “La Dolce Vita” women liked so much (even though sometimes he went a bit too far with a behaviour that could be defined as…a tad arrogant and distinctive of a bully), showed flashes of pure talent by playing magnificent, spectacular tennis and beating, in days of top form, some of the world’s best tennis players: Orantes, Nastase, Borg, Rosewall, Connors. While it was impossible not to fall in love with his technical skills, with his variety and extravagance, even in a time where all big players had different styles, he was criticised for one thing only – his inconsistency, namely those days of top form being too sporadic.


There were no tennis players who didn’t fear him. Even Bjorn Borg, the world’s strongest tennis player at the time – surely on clay, but five victories at Wimbledon marked his being an all-round player – knew that Adriano Panatta in top form could have made him tumble down into the fine, red dust. And that happened more than once, including at the most important events. Borg took part in eight French Opens, and won six of them. Who did he lose to on those two occasions? Adriano Panatta. It happened in 1973, but as mentioned, 1976 was his magical year. He triumphed in the tournament that he held dear, in Rome, close to home. To accomplish a major sport endeavour, one needs a lot of physical and mental strength, courage and – as another big player would have said 43 years later in a certain principality – even a bit of luck.

Until that memorable week at the Foro Italico, Adriano had beaten many important opponents, won several minor tournaments, but not yet a big tournament, even though everyone could see the high potential in him. However, he was never the favourite for the final victory. Everyone knew that he could win against anyone, and everyone hoped for it. But that only really happened every now and then. Many other times, for those who had fallen in love with his style of play, what happened was instead the opposite. Fede Torre wrote on Ubitennis – and I invite you to read it again – a while ago: “A sportsperson is never the one who wins, but the emotion that they convey by doing it and the way people identify with them. It is a destiny restricted to only few ones – the destiny of a Valentino Rossi, an Alberto Tomba, a Marco Pantani, a Roberto Baggio. Adriano Panatta was all this. He was handsome, he was young. On the court, he was elegant. Outside, even more”.

That week too, it really seemed that it was not meant to be. Playing against an Aussie who was not a top player and certainly not one of the great Australians who wrote the history of tennis – a certain Kim Warwick, talented of course (the previous week he had beaten Kodes in Hamburg) but a bit crazy and almost hysterical in some situations – Adriano bumped into what could have looked like a bad day. Or so it seemed until almost the very end. Warwick had – and it is no joke – 11 match points. Ten on his own serve starting from when he was 5-2 40-15 up, then another three in the same game. The others when he was 5-4 40-0. Since I noted them down one by one, allow me to say it again – it is no joke. Two of them were exciting, very close racquet-to-racquet exchanges, and the audience went crazy: ‘Adriaaanooo Aaadriaaanooo!’. Who knows how Panatta turned a bad day into an unbelievable day, when he magically started to return divinely, to play incredible passing shots with the Australian desperately attacking the net, match point after match point. Returns and passing shots had never been Adriano’s strength points, yet miraculously and suddenly they became so that day.

Perhaps it was luck, and so what? Then again maybe it wasn’t, because after that Adriano nailed an extraordinary sequence of wins, against very strong clay court players. He struggled again against Tonino Zugarelli, who was from Rome too but was treated like a foreigner by Adriano’s often unjust fans. It was then the time of Franulovic (the current director of the Monte Carlo tournament), and afterwards Solomon, who retired in protest due to an umpire’s decision when he was 5-4 up in the third set. Next, Adriano crushed Newcombe getting everyone excited, and finally he reached the highest point in the final by defeating Guillermo Vilas, who, after Borg, was undoubtedly the strongest and most consistent player on clay. He beat Vilas in four sets. It was pandemonium. In that tournament, there were seven of the world’s top 10 players. Could we still talk about luck? Certainly not. But in every victory, except maybe some of Borg’s and Nadal’s at the French Open, just to remain in the clay world, there is always a bit of luck.

Panatta in tribuna – Montecarlo 2019 (foto Roberto Dell’Olivo)

I will keep it short with Panatta at the French Open. Even that looked like anything but his tournament. In the first round against the Czech Pavel Hutka, it looked like another bad day for almost the whole match, until when he miraculously saved a match point with a phenomenal dive. A different Panatta played the second part of the match, and won it easily making it look like an exhibition. Both in the semi-final and in the final, he would beat two hardcore, short guys who were very much alike, both in physical structure and style of tennis – double-handed backhand capable of very narrow cross-court angles, a mediocre serve, and at the net only to shake hands with their opponent at the end of the match. Still two top 10 players with great consistency and solidity. However, his masterpiece was achieved in the quarter-finals, when his victim was the most prestigious player, dominated with dropshots disguised as feigned chop approaches, wrong-foot attacks, sudden serve&volleys. Bjorn Borg, the strongest ever tennis player on clay before the advent of Nadal, looked powerless. The Parisians got excited thanks to Panatta’s splendid, creative and varied tennis, the same way as the Romans did at the Foro Italico.

Panatta would achieve his best ranking first in Rome and then in Paris, when some already doubted that he would ever make it at such high levels, due to his helplessness in keeping up with the favourable predictions. In Florence, where he also won in the past, unfortunately I saw him lose to almost unknown players such as the Bolivian Benavides, the Americans Winitski and Fagel, and the Australian Dibley.

Well, Giovan Battista Vico will surely agree with me, wherever he is now. Fabio Fognini’s history resembles a lot Adriano Panatta’s. In terms of pure talent and potential, I often compared Fabio to Adriano, frequently writing that in the last 40 years Italian tennis has not seen a stronger and more talented tennis player.

For almost ten years, even without any big tournament, he has constantly been in the world’s top 20 and everyone has expected him to break into the top 10 for years. Fabio has always been the first one to explain the reason why he has never managed to do this – it is a head issue, certainly not a tennis issue. In the good days, his tennis has always been more enjoyable to watch than many top 10 players. We don’t need to mention anyone.

Just like at the Foro Italico 43 years ago, what had been forecast a thousand times without it happening has now happened in Monte Carlo. This is the chronicle of a proclaimed event. He is on the verge of defeat against Rublev (who may not be a Safin or a Kafelnikov but was able to reach the quarter-finals at the US Open as a teenager) – a bit crazy like Kim Warwick. But less brave, or reckless, than Fognini, who scores an ace with his second serve on one of the five break points that Rublev does not convert to go and serve on the 6-4 5-1 up.

After that miraculous and lucky turnaround, Fognini is even luckier as the Frenchman Simon, who had beaten him five times out of five, gives him a walkover. However, then he gives a tennis lesson to the world’s number 3, who had only allowed Fognini to win six games per match in the last two previous encounters. A sheer display of tennis. The great show goes on with Coric – after a first set played by Fognini’s poor substitute, he plays the other two the way he alone knows. And here’s Borg – sorry, Nadal – in the semi-final. Like Borg, Rafa knows that he may lose to an inspired Fognini. It had already happened to him three times. Once despite being two sets up and not in any tournament – it was the US Open.

Fognini vs Nadal match – Monte carlo 2019 (PHoto Roberto Dell’Olivo)

As soon as things don’t look up for him, Rafa gets nervous. He knows he’s not in top form and he hasn’t been playing particularly well since he came back after getting injured in Indian Wells. Fognini, on the other hand, finds himself in one of those days where he is able to do everything he wants. The points go by, the games too, and Fognini is the only player who is really putting on a show with an extraordinary display of tennis, while Nadal falls more and more into his bad day. This Fognini today is unbeatable, relentless and the stronger one. To the extent that Nadal just about manages to avoid the extreme humiliation in tennis – a 6-0 that the world’s strongest clay court player since the Borg era could not have forecast (although, much against his will, he was convinced that he played badly, extremely badly).

But how much of this is Fognini’s credit? Surely a lot, and maybe more. Just like Panatta against Borg.

And like Panatta, Fognini does not get distracted this time – unlike all the other three times when he had inevitably lost after beating Nadal – and beats Lajovic as well, without letting himself being crushed by the pressure of not missing that apparently unique opportunity. Panatta, too, had the same kind of anguish on the eve of his winning matches with first Dibbs and then Solomon in his first great, greatest final.

He won, or rather triumphed. He won the world’s approval, everyone’s unlimited admiration, thanks to the way he won, the way he played. He notched his best ranking. And the Italian tennis movement benefitted from that achievement. While Panatta had two big victories, Fabio has one left if he is to match him. No one doubts anymore that he will get there: at 32 years old, he has finally broken the ice, and he will certainly know how to handle the pressure of being the favourite and a champion in one of the next tournaments. The Italian tennis movement – I don’t think it would be right to forget even now that too often his conduct has not lived up to his tennis – should thank him and consider itself lucky to have had for the past ten years a tennis player, a champion, like him. As already written a thousand times, the best one since the time of Panatta in a 40-year period. Adriano king of Rome, Fabio prince of Monte Carlo.

(Translation by Riccardo Superbo)


Why It Is Right To Criticise Novak Djokovic Over His Chat With Chervin Jafarieh

The world No.1 is entitled to his beliefs, but there is a fine line.



Novak Djokovic is undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time given his record-breaking career that has seen him claim 17 grand slam titles and win more prize money than any other player in history. He is an idol of thousands and is one of the most influential people in Serbia. The position is a great honour, but it is also one that places him under strict scrutiny at times.


This scrutiny opens him up for criticism. Just earlier this week he posted a video on his Instagram account of him training at a facility in Mallorca. Prompting accusations that he broke lockdown rules before it was later confirmed that the mistake lied with the owners of the venue. It could be argued that Djokovic gets a more hostile reception from the tennis community compared to his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Just look at last year’s Wimbledon final. With all of this in mind, there is fresh uproar over a recent chat he held and quite rightly so.

The world No.1 recently held a discussion with Chervin Jafarieh, who is known for his holistic approach to health. The purpose of their Instagram Live talk was to explain what Djokovic describes as the ‘natural detoxification process of the body.’ During one part of their discussion, they touched on the belief that the molecular structure of water can be changed by simply meditating or thinking. Basically, if you have bad thoughts, it will make bad water.

“I know some people that, through energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they managed to turn the most toxic food, or maybe most polluted water into the most healing water, because water reacts. Scientists have proven that in experiment, that molecules in the water react to our emotions to what has been said,” Djokovic said.
“I truly believe that we should continuously every single day remind ourselves when we sit, that we sit without cameras, without phones, without watching things and stuff. Or even worse, having nervous [and] conflicting discussions at the table with your close ones during your meal.”

The concept is based on research conducted by pseudo-scientist Masaru Emoto. However, the reason why Djokovic has come under fire for endorsing this view is because of the many questions surrounding it. First of all, it lacks scientific validity. In one article written by professor William Reville, he points out that Emoto was never a scientist (he was a doctor of alternative medicine) and conducted a triple blind study that actually disproved this theory which Djokovic has publicly promoted. Furthermore, EU-funded Germany water company, says mainstream science has been unable to replicate Emoto’s findings because of the ‘unspecified techniques” used. It is also interesting to note that Emoto was offered to take part in the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge where he could prove his theory but declined.

Of course, people have their own beliefs and should never be criticised for them. Although Djokovic finds himself in a tough box. Due to his status, he has the ability to inspire and influence many. A lot of which he has already done for the good with his love and respect for everybody.

But in this case he should be held to account for giving such a high profile platform to Jafarieh. A person who has minimal information online.

Jafarieh is the mastermind behind wellness brand CYMBIOTIKA, which is a leading dietary supplement that is known for ‘creating pure, clinically-backed supplements.’ Looking at the website, it may appeal to many for numerous reasons. The products are said to help reduce anxiety, boost your immune system and calms the central nervous system. This sounds like a bunch of great products until you do look beneath the surface.

“We are not responsible if information made available on this site is not accurate, complete or current. The material on this website is provided for general information only and should not be relied upon or used as the sole basis for making decisions without consulting primary, more accurate, more complete or more timely sources of information.” The terms and conditions of the website read.

Researching further the Frequently Asked Questions of the CYMBIOTIKA website states that ‘results are not guaranteed.’

Despite these issues, there will likely be a surge of interest around these products. After all, if a top athlete like Djokovic has been taking similar health remedies, it must have positive effects? A perfectly justifiable reasoning, but also one that shows Djokovic’s responsibility concerning these matters.

It is not for me to say what he should or shouldn’t express. Djokovic is renowned for his mental strength on the court and standing up for what he believes in. As Mary Carillo from The Tennis Channel notes he is not one who doesn’t like change.

“It’s not a surprise Novak speaks in these ways. This I find particularly dangerous. He’s not the kind of guy whose favourite music changes in every room he moves in… I’m very disturbed that Djokovic and that other guy are saying you can change toxic water to drinking water.” She said.

Djokovic is a sporting icon and nothing changes that. His controversial chat has already gained more than 500,00 views and not necessarily all of it was bad. However, to give a platform to somebody who sells questionable products is one that should be concerning. After all, if they were perfectly fine, why would the company advise the public to look at other sources of information beforehand?

This is why I think it is right to criticise Djokovic.

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Of Novak Djokovic, A Champion And Above All A Great Man

The Serbian donated one million euros to the hospitals in Bergamo, and did so without publicity. This is a great example of the great person he is, despite the crowd abuse he had to endure at Wimbledon against Federer. His authenticity has always been there, all the way since those Players Parties in Monte Carlo.



Novak Djokovic did something amazing, and the unprompted nature of his act did all but magnify his gallantry.


I’ve met him a few times, for instance when I was invited to the Players Party in Monte Carlo as either a comedic advisor or even as an actor, and I have to say that, whether one can like his brand of tennis which is – perfunctory to say – extraordinary, to be able to witness the charm, the spontaneity, and the effort he put in his duties as dancer, singer, and all-around showman, reinforced my first impression of him as a genuinely decent guy, not a conceited persona. This is why I always thought the attitude of the crowd during the last Wimbledon final against Federer to be utterly disgraceful to say the least. It’s one thing to choose a champion to cheer for, and another to disrespect his opponent, to the point of taking away from him the joys of victory and celebration. And as a matter of fact, Nole barely acknowledged his success. Sure, he will have thoroughly enjoyed it in his heart, but some bitterness must have crept in – and this is just unfair.

Many have said that Novak is constantly hurt by the greater popularity of Federer and Nadal, who had a head start in seizing the love of tennis fans, and then could live off it as with a trust fund. I don’t think Nole is jealous of his rivals. However, it is only human that he wishes for his humane side to be acknowledged a little more, as it happens in Serbia, where he is second to none in the estimation of his people. This happens in Italy as well, for the most part, thanks to his fluency in the language that allows him to fully be himself wherever he goes, be it in stand-up comedy skits, at music festivals, or simply among the crowd. When he says that Italy is his second home, he says it sincerely, and that is true for his wife Jelena too, since she studied in Milan. When he says it, he’s not pandering to Roger and Rafa’s fans, he knows that they won’t switch sides. He has no obligation to say it, he does because he means it. Every single tournament winner thanks the organisers and the crowd, claiming that it’s the best event that could possibly be, we know it, it’s part of the game. But Djokovic, who loves Rome and its tournament, and is loved by the city in return, doesn’t mince words when he says that some things could and should be improved, especially in terms of court maintenance – his honesty should be appreciated.

We should also be more accepting of the diplomacy that his political role in the ATP Council entails at times, leading him to leave some questions unanswered. I don’t always agree with what Novak says, such as during the Gimelstob affair, at least initially. At the same time, though, it can’t be easy for a man in his position to pick a side during a quarrel like the one happening between the ATP Cup (backed by Tennis Australia) and the Davis Cup, a competition he has an unbreakable bond with, because of what it meant for him and for Serbia when they won it in 2010, changing the trajectory of his career for good, and for the better.

He’s stated publicly that he’s in favour of the creation of a single team event, but he knows very well that the interests at stake – involving multi-year contracts signed by Tennis Australia on one side, and by the ITF, Piqué, and Rakuten on the other – are not easily reconcilable, and thus he knows very well that his statement might sound hypocritical or utopian. However, being a “politician” of tennis, he’s aware that what he said is what the fans who do not have any economic agendas wish for, namely one competition that wouldn’t betray too much the storied past of the Davis Cup.

Well, I got caught up in the writing as usual, even if I was doing it on my phone with the idea of putting on paper just a couple lines (!) to commend Novak on his incredible gesture, and this is even more noticeable since I can only use one finger while writing on my phone (my children write at supersonic speed, and I have no idea how). All I wanted to do was to thank Novak Djokovic for being such a great champion, and even more for being such a great man. All that’s left to say is… NOT TOO BAD! To Nole,


P.S. I’ll always regret missing the chance to play with him in Australia, when he told me, “Bring your racquet tomorrow!” Just one minute of that heinous spectacle of personal embarrassment would have been enough for me to be contented with myself! Alas, the temperature reached 40 degrees and the humidity was such that all outdoors play was suspended, and naturally I had no way to get onto the indoors ones between matches. That night Nole all but apologized and said: “We’ll do it in Rome then!”

Article translated from by Tommaso Villa

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Tennis In The Time Of Covid-19

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.




By Cheryl Jones

It’s April. Tennis hasn’t been cancelled, but it’s been sidelined by something much bigger than the sport itself. The Covid-19 virus has taken center stage. It’s doubtful that Rafael Nadal will be taking his yearly bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires, even though Roland Garros has merely been rescheduled for September. Paris’ delay could eventually lead to cancellation, gauging the way things are now. Roger Federer is likely having mixed feelings about the cancellation of most major events that he was planning to skip anyway, having had knee surgery quite recently. Andy Murray has probably been weighing the events of the day, trying to decide if he should retire and become an expert on the rare species of bats that have taken up residence on his property – or maybe not.


There’s a likelihood that the stars of the tennis world are doing just what everyone else is doing – sheltering in place, reading that book that’s been on the shelf gathering dust, or maybe like Federer trying to hit balls against a wall to get back into condition. Of course it is snowing and windy and cold in Switzerland this time of year, but as Chaucer once said – time waits for no man. Evidently, not even Roger Federer.

Having a good deal of time on my hands, having read three of those dusty books and missing tennis, my mind began to wander. I thought about others that were confined to their homes, much as I am here in Southern California. Because this was a rather unplanned sequestering, most folks have had to make-do with what they have on hand.

Last week, ESPN, hungry for sports news, where thanks to the virus, none exists, showed Federer hitting balls against a backboard on his private court. I imagined that he had to make sure there were no gut strings involved that would grow gummy in the wet and wild weather. Then I thought, what if his supply of synthetic strings ran low? A crafty guy like Federer would have something on hand. He would have known that he needed to rehab and there should have been a way to make that happen. What better way to get in shape for tennis than with tennis?

I imagined that he called his good friend Rafa and the two of them surely would have chatted about the dilemma Roger was having. He needed to rehab, but he had way too much gut and not enough synthetic string. As problems go, this should have been inconsequential, in the scheme of things, but it wasn’t. They both knew that their livelihood should not depend on the lack of suitable manmade product. The chitchat that the two greats exchanged would have been light and airy – How are the kids? How about the newlyweds? How’s the fishing going? Kids are fine; marriage is fine; fishing isn’t what it once was, but life is good. Wait – fishing… Rafa might have remembered that he left a tackle box in Roger’s huge garage. Recalling the contents, he would have said, “Check the stash of fishing line, No?”

A glimmer of hope would have painted a smile on Roger’s face and off he would go to check the garage for the tackle box. Looking in every crevice of the space that was carefully catalogued and organized for convenience, he might finally have spotted the box. It was filled with hooks and lures. Not much in the way of fishing line, but when he moved the top drawer, there under it all, was a supply of fishing line. It would have been cold out there. Roger would have stuffed his pockets with spools of various test weights. (Fishing line is gauged by the size of fish it could be strong enough to reel in.)

He would have jogged back into the house, thrilled with his find. After all, the sporting goods stores were all on hiatus because the places had been declared non-essential businesses. The thought of that had left him muttering about who made those decisions? But, he would have headed for his stringing machine, hoping all the while for a miracle.

He would have tried the 16-pound test line first. It was easy to evenly string the test racquet he had selected. But when he struck a ball, it nearly sliced the little green orb into pieces. By then, his wife, Mirka would have entered the picture and procured the strangely strung racquet for slicing hardboiled eggs to make uniquely cubed egg salad sandwiches. With those snacks, their four kids would have memories to share with their own children, someday. Who but a child of the father of an invention could have been so lucky?

A determined Roger would have moved on to another test case (or test racquet) then. He would next have tried the 40-pound test. The curly string would have been a clear example of over-kill, but he persevered. After it had seemed satisfactory, the excited Federer would have swiftly donned his outside clothing and ambled to the soggy court. In mere seconds, his racquet would have been immune to the wet, icy air. He would have swatted ball after ball toward his anxious opponent – the wall. Satisfied to having solved his pressing issues, at least for the day, he would have again dialed up his Spanish friend. The line would have crackled and a friendly voice would have answered, No?

Yes! Would surely have been Roger’s reply. The two friends would have marveled at their ability to think outside the box, even though the solution had been in the tackle box all along.

There will be tennis again, but along the way there should be memories of triumphs that rise above the challenges that these times engender. Existence can hinge on more than tennis, but the game will survive a pandemic with a lot of patience and ingenuity.


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