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.

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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)

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Nadal, Djokovic And Federer Excelled On Manic Monday And That Isn’t A Good Thing

Why the dominance of the trio at Wimbledon should be admired, but not celebrated.

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WIMBLEDON: On a day where all the fourth round matches took place at The All England Club there was an inevitability in the men’s draw.

 

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic all proved why they are the top three seeds. Producing a display that overwhelmed and frustrated their opponents. The trio along with Andy Murray have won the past 16 Wimbledon titles. A true testament to their dominance in the sport. On the other hand, it is also a somewhat mixed situation for the world of men’s tennis.

“I wasn’t feeling so good about my strokes, my serve, my forehand, backhand, everything. I wasn’t feeling so good, I didn’t expect to be tight, to be maybe not ready, but not like this.” Matteo Berrettini said following his loss to Federer.
“I was saying to myself that it was normal, for me, it was my first time on Centre Court against him.”

The brick wall put up by the Big Three at The All England Club can only be compared with the Great Wall of China. A gigantic structure that requires a huge effort to conquer it. Yet it is possible to scale it and people have done before. So there is one question that arises. Is the Big Three too good or are their challengers on the court not good enough?

World No.1 Novak Djokovic shed some light on the situation shortly after his straight-sets win over Ugo Humbert. The only member of the Next Generation to reach the last 16 of the tournament. Djokovic has been a giant in the world of grand slam tennis within the past 12 months. Winning three titles and reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

“I think we are working as hard as anybody really to be there. I think the experience we have helps confidence, everything that we have achieved in our careers obviously we carry onto the court, then most of the players feel that, feel the pressure.” He said.
“For us, it’s another match on the center stage that we’ve experienced so many times. I think that’s one of the reasons why we, I guess, feel comfortable being there and managing to play our best consistently.”

Experience certainly pays it part. 14 out of the 16 players to reach the fourth round are over the age of 27 and eight of those are over the age of 30. However, when the older guys of the tour has had a shot on Manic Monday in the past against the Big Three they fell short. What is it that they are doing wrong?

“I think the best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions. That helps us to play better.” Explains Federer.
“I think with experience, that’s good. We haven’t dropped much energy in any way. It’s not like we’re coming in with an empty tank into the second week.’
“All these little things help us to then really thrive in these conditions. I don’t know what else it is.”

Fortunately, Federer and Co are human. Even if it is hard to believe when they illustrate such breathtaking tennis at times. Serena Williams describes Federer’s play as that similar to an elegant Ballerina. The way he moves around the court effortlessly and dictates the points.

One people aiming to rain on the parade of the big guns is Sam Querrey. A 31-year-old American who reached the semi-finals of the major back in 2017. Against Tennys Sandgren on Monday, he produced 25 aces and won 83% of his first service points on route to victory. Setting up a clash with Nadal. Somebody who he beat in their last meeting back in 2017, but trails their overall head-to-head 1-5.

“In order to kind of break that streak, it’s most likely beating Rafa, Federer, Djokovic. The mountain gets very steep from here to break that trend, but I’m going to do the best I can.” Said Querrey.
“I like playing here (at Wimbledon). I’m comfortable here. This seems to be the slam where you’ve got odd results, if you want to call them, over the, you know, last 25 years.”

In an era that is dominated by a selected group of players, there are both admiration and frustration among both players and fans. Their achievements have been incredible, but when will a fresh face live up to the hype on a consistent basis? Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all huge threats. Just not on a regular enough basis.

“I am not thinking about sending a message about the next generation, how they are coming or not. I know they’re good.” Nadal stated.
“I know there is going to be a day where they are going to be in front of us because they will play better than us or because we are leaving (the sport), we are not kids anymore. That’s all.”
“It is special what we achieved in the last 15 years. Something special, difficult to repeat I think, so many titles between three players. But sometimes these kinds of things happen.”

Men’s tennis is undoubtedly in the midst of a unique period with some of the greatest ever players taking to the court’s. However, is their dominance too much of a good thing?

Only time will tell when the trio retires and men’s tennis are left facing the prospect of trying to fill in their shoes. A task that is as exciting as it is terrifying for the next contingent of players.

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Wimbledon: Where The Young Guns Of Men’s Tennis Failed To Deliver

The grass promised to be a surface where shocks could occur. Instead, the future stars of the sport endured a nightmare.

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photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo

WIMBLEDON: There was a sense of optimism that this year’s Wimbledon Championships would see the younger protagonists of the men’s tour finally have their breakthrough. In reality, it was a tournament filled with disappointment for almost all of them.

 

Heading into the second week of the grass-court major only two players left are under the age of 25. Ugo Humbert at the age of 23 and Matteo Barratini at 21. It is a sharp contrast to the women’s draw, which has been shaken by the rise of 15-year-old Cori Gauff. Two-time French open finalist Dominic Thiem, multiple Masters champion Alexander Zverev and Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas all fell at the first hurdle.

“I lost my first rounds ’99, 2000, had a run in 2001, then lost first round again 2002. I don’t know if it was because of lack of experience.” Federer reflected about the misfortunes of his younger rivals.
“The panic can set in quickly on this surface. I don’t know if that’s got something to do, and if age calms the nerves there. I’m not sure. I think also it’s maybe a moment in time.”

John McEnroe had previously tipped Tsitsipas to have a deep run at The All England Club. Commenting about the Next Generation earlier this week, the former world No.1 told BBC TV he ‘was still waiting for them to come.’ To a certain extent, he is correct. Although they have previously shined on the ATP Tour winning titles. So what makes grand slams so much harder?

“We know how hard it is to beat Novak, how hard it is to beat Rafa here. Me, as well.” Federer explained. “I have a great record here. We obviously also have better draws because we’re seeded, and we’re away from the bigger seeds earlier.’
“Our path to the fourth round is definitely not as hard as maybe some of the younger guys on the tour, as well.”

Grand slams are played in a best-of-five format. Some would argue that the longer matches can take it tolls on the rising stars of the game. However, the likes of Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal has achieved major success before their 20th birthday. Furthermore, the development is sport science in recent years have been a massive boost for helping players develop.

So maybe the real problem for Zverev and Co is themselves. 18-year-old Felix Auger Allissme, who is the youngest player to break into the top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt back in 1999, fared better at Wimbledon. Reaching the third round before going out to Umbert.

“Pressure got to me, and… it got to a point where it was a bit embarrassing,” The Canadian said following his loss. “It was just tough. I just wasn’t finding ways. I think he just did what he had to do. It was solid.”

For Tsitsipas, he had another explanation for the series of below-par performances. Saying that all of the Next Gen contingent lack consistency on the tour. There are currently six played in the top 50 under the age of 21. Three have those have managed to reach multiple semi-finals of the ATP Tour so far this season – Tsitsipas (6), Auger-Aliassime (5) and Taylor Fritz (3).

“We’ve seen players my age, many years ago. I would like to name Rafa, Roger, seemed very mature and professional what they were doing. They had consistency from a young age. They always did well tournament by tournament without major drops or inconsistency.” The Greek explained.
“Something that we as the Next Gen players lack, including me as well, is this inconsistency week by week. It’s a week-by-week problem basically, that we cannot adjust to that.”

The younger stars of the sport will eventually win at grand slam level. The only thing to wonder if will that happen before the Big Four retire from the sport? Novak Djokovic was just 20 when he won his first title at the 2008 Australian Open. For him, he can relate to the misfortunes of his opponents.

“I remember how it was for me when I won my first slam in 2008. For a few years, I was No.3, No.4 in the world, which was great, but I wasn’t able to make that next step in the Slams and win Slams. I know how that feels.” Said Djokovic.
‘There is time. I understand that people want them to see a new winner of a Grand Slam. They don’t want to see three of us dominating the Slam titles. Eventually, it’s going to come, in about 25 years, then we’ll all be happy [smiling].’ he later joked.

Seven days into Wimbledon, Berrettini and Umbert are left flying the flag for the future generation of the men’s tennis. Both of those will play a member of the Big Four on Monday. Berrettini plays Federer and Umbert faces Federer. It remains to be seen if they can silence critics with a shock win.

Wimbledon fourth round players by age

Roger Federer SWI – 37
Fernando Verdasco ESP – 35
Rafael Nadal ESP – 33
Novak Djokovic SRB – 32
Roberto Bautista Agut ESP – 31
Mikhail Kukushkin KAZ – 31
Sam Querrey USA – 31
Joao Sousa POR – 30
Benoite Paire FRA – 30
Guido Pella ARG – 29
Kei Nishikori JPA – 29
Milos Raonic CAN – 28
David Goffin BEL – 28
Tennys Sandgren USA – 27
Matteo Berrettini ITA – 23
Ugo Humbert FRA – 21

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Bad Boy Nick Kyrgios Is Both Controversial And A Hit With Fans At Wimbledon

Like his career, Kyrgios’ first round win was anything but ordinary at The All England Club. Not that this is a bad thing for the sport.

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Nick Kyrgios of Australia is pictured in action during day four of ATP Fever-Tree Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club in west London on June 19, 2019.

WIMBLEDON: In the era of the Big Four it takes somebody unique to be able to attract mass interest at a grand slam and Nick Kyrgios without a doubt fits into that category.

 

Known for his unpredictable behavior, the Australian has previously been sanctioned for throwing a chair, allegedly tanking and even lobbing his racket outside of the court. At the same time, he has scored high-profile wins over players such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

During his first round match at Wimbledon on Tuesday, Court Three was packed with fans wanting to see Kyrgios’ clash against compatriot Jordan Thompson. At one stage there was no room for any members of the media to enter. Shouts of ‘come on Nick’ erupted throughout the marathon encounter, which ended with Kyrgios prevailing 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1. Setting up a potential blockbuster meeting with Rafael Nadal if he wins his first round match.

“It was incredibly tough,” Kyrgios said following his 213-minute clash. “I think coming into today, Tomo (Thompson) is probably one of the most in-form grass courters of the season. He made his first final in S’hertogenbosch. He’s obviously feeling pretty comfortable on the grass.”

The 24-year-old illustrated why he is one of the most popular characters in the sport during his first round match. At first, it looked as if the world No.43 would be crashing out in no time. Rushing between points and struggling to find any consistency in his play. However, as the match progressed, so did Kyrgios’ level and commitment. Much to the frustration of his opponent and the delight of the British crowd.

A series of failed tweener shots alongside serves exceeding the 130 mph benchmark pretty much summarised his performance. Playing around on the court, Kyrgios undoubtedly entertained everybody with his antics. Prompting laughter on numerous occasions.

“I just go out there, have fun, play the game how I want it to be played,” Kyrgios explained.
“At the end of the day, I know people are going to watch. They can say the way I play isn’t right or he’s classless for the sport, all that sort of stuff. They’re probably still going to be there watching. Doesn’t really make sense.”

It is hard to argue with Kyrgios’ statement when you look at the media back in his home country. Playing at the same time as women’s world No.1 Ash Barty, Channel Seven opted to broadcast live his match instead of hers.

The drama

Of course, it would not be a Kyrgios match if there wasn’t drama. After the second set, he took a medical time out for treatment on his hip/back region. Soon after his fragile temperament was exposed as he grew annoyed by members of the crowd.

“They’re bringing a camera the size of a tennis racket to the court and it’s sunny. Maybe the lens is shining in their eyes. I don’t know. You know?” He said to the umpire.

Following on from that a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct came before a poor line called triggered him off once again.

“I’m playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars out here. Why is the linesman not getting fined? Tell me. Why?” He stated.

Despite those outbursts, Kyrgios still had the crowd fullying backing him. Further proof of his popularity. A 22-point tiebreaker in the third set revived his momentum on the court after prevailing on his eighth set point. Causing more anguish for Thompson. Fittingly the match ended in appropriate Kyrgios style with him getting bageled before racing through the decider. Something he admitted was a ‘tactic.’

Should Kyrgios face Nadal next, it is almost certain their clash will be played on Center Court. The Australian may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it is clear that he is a force in the sport.

“I think everyone just goes about their business the way they are. I think that the sport has a serious problem with that. I mean, just because I’m different, I go about it a different way, it causes a stir.” Said Kyrgios.
“I understand that people are different and people are going to play differently. If everyone was the same, it would be very boring, no?’
“I mean, I don’t think there’s a shortage of entertainers. I just think people go about it differently. Different perspectives. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand that.”

Love him or hate him, Kyrgios has zero plans of changing his ways.

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