Luigi Serra, A Great Photographer And Friend Of Ubitennis, Passes Away In Chicago Due To Covid-19 - UBITENNIS
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Luigi Serra, A Great Photographer And Friend Of Ubitennis, Passes Away In Chicago Due To Covid-19

Luigi was 80, but in spirit he was so much younger than that, always cheerful, a friend to all, generous to a fault, a great person with a unique sense of humour. UbiTennis has published hundreds of his beautiful pictures. We have lost a friend.

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It’s a terrible, sad piece news that Gianni Ciaccia gave to me on Thursday evening from Paris. Luigi Serra, an extraordinary personality, born in Florence, with a degree in engineering, who moved to the US many years ago with two great passions, tennis and photography, has left us suddenly, without any warning, in Chicago, struck by this terrible and implacable virus that doesn’t loosen its grip on our lives.

 

Luigi’s is a tremendous personal loss for me, because I loved him and I often spoke to him on the phone to talk about many things and because we also shared a passion for Fiorentina’s football club. He always followed the team’s matches live from the USA – alas, their recent performance doesn’t even remotely compare to those of the two Serie A title clinched in 1956 and 1969, two iterations of the club’s roster he knew like the back of his hand – and he would call me when they were over to comment on them and to ask me, as he did the last time: “Will Prandelli be able to raise La Viola once again? Oh, we never score!” He said this in a Florentine/American pidgin, similar to Alberto Sordi’s “what’sa American!”

A few days ago, I sent him a beautiful article written for Ubitennis.com by Agostino Nigro on the death of Diego Maradona, and I was surprised that he didn’t send me back his comment. It wasn’t like him. I discovered only last night that Luigi had been in the hospital for 15 days. And thinking that a few days earlier, knowing that he also had a home in California, near Palm Springs and next to the tennis courts, I told him: “Why do you go to Chicago in the winter when the weather is much nicer in California and stay in California in the summer when it’s so hot you may die?” He had listed a series of reasons. Every year Luigi came back to Florence, with his very friendly wife Bonnie (I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it, but she came with him to have dinner with us in Settignano one evening three years ago… and it was a very pleasant evening, my wife still laughs about it…), and he wanted to go to Sanesi, a trattoria in Signa where – as he said – “you can eat the best Florentine steak in the world.”

For years he has been sending me his photos, from Indian Wells to New York, everywhere he went to – even to Roland Garros where he asked me to get him a media accreditation – and then he always asked me the same thing: “I come to your house and you make me a Florentine steak! Otherwise, no photos!”. It had become a game we repeated a thousand times. And I would say to him, “Luigi, I don’t like this picture, no steak!”

He had mastered a job that wasn’t his own. He had become very good at it and could make huge sacrifices just to take a good photo. And he was naturally super proud of his creatures. He was – it’s annoying and a pain to use all these past tenses now! – always smiling, mixing Italian and American slang among a thousand of “you know“, always with an alert eye to catch every beautiful girl who he was able to approach innocently with such a rare and irresistible congeniality, even if the age gap exceeded half a century. He could say anything, but no one would ever be hurt for it, so genuine and spontaneous was his approach.

We lived unforgettable moments with him, really funny ones. He took us to Little Italy, to restaurants that he knew perfectly although he lived in Chicago. He had friends everywhere. I never once saw him angry. Never. And, of course, at the last US Open we attended together, in 2019, we ate my usual bresaola with parmesan cheese and olive oil that I invariably brought to Flushing Meadows. We shared those moments so many times.

It was him, in March, who arranged an appointment with Ray Moore, Larry Ellison’s right-hand man and former director of the Indian Wells tournament (before Tommy Haas) for a Skype interview, and he was also a friend of Martin Mulligan’s, the former Wimbledon finalist and three-time champion at the Italian Open, with whom he spoke very often (and to whom it was my turn to give the sad news of his passing). He knew everyone, he was a friend to everyone. About fifteen years ago, he even did a photo shoot for my son, who had come to New York after spending some time at Bollettieri and Evert’s Academies.

There are no less than a few hundred photos taken by Luigi that we have in our archives. Sometimes he used to scold me because, while we had copyrighted his name on the Italian site, there was no copyright on the English home page, Ubitennis.net, which he ended up looking at more than the Italian one. That, instead, was his greatest satisfaction, to see his signature under a beautiful photo. I believe that the best gift we can give him from now on will be to dig out and publish some of his photos as many times as possible, starting with a selection of his best 50 pictures that will be released within the next few hours. And I’m sure that since he is anything but shy, in Heaven he will have already started to take pictures of each saint holding a racquet. Sometimes, sending photos on time was a problem for Luigi, but from up above there I’m sure he will find a way to make things work, as he always did in the end.

Rest in peace my friend, I have lost you but I won’t forget you. I love you and will always think of you. The most affectionate hug to your dear and sweet wife, your Ubaldo.

Article translated by Alice Nagni; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Why Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Month In Tennis Matters

Besides the fancy rainbow-coloured clothing that is worn, there is a far more important reason.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

June is when players switch their focus from the clay to grass in order to tune up their preparations ahead of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships. But for some linked to the sport this month is also significant for another reason.

 

It is LGBT pride month which is an initiative that was originally created as a way to mark the Stonewall Riots which began on June 28th 1969 in New York. A series of protests took place in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn which was the catalyst in the fight for equal rights among the LGBT community. In the UK the first pride March was held in 1972 and today there are more than 100 events in the country annually.

Today Pride is about promoting equality in the world with various organizations taking part, including tennis. The British Lawn Tennis Association has gotten more involved this year by hosting a series of Pride Days at their ATP and WTA events. They have taken place on the Friday of tournaments in Nottingham, Birmingham and Queen’s. The final one is taking place this Friday in Eastbourne.

“We still live in a time when people don’t always feel like they can be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, so the more we can do to show support and let them know everything is ok the better,’ British player Liam Broady recently said.

https://twitter.com/the_LTA/status/1537788274890121216

Some may wonder as to if Pride events such as these are necessary in tennis considering it is 2022 and lives for LGBT people have improved considerably over the years. However, there is still work to be done. One study called OUTSPORT found that 90% of LGBT+ respondents believe that homophobia and transphobia is a problem in sport and 33% remain closeted in their own sporting context. Another study conducted in recent years is Out On The Fields which found almost eight out of 10 respondents felt that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event. Obviously, these findings vary depending on the sport and the country, but it still illustrates the seriousness of the subject.

In tennis, the WTA Tour has seen various LGBT role models triumph at the very top. Both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were some of the very first professional athletes to come out publicly during the 1980s which was a decade when misinformation about the Aids crises lead to the stigmation of the gay community. King said she lost all of her endorsements within 24 hours after being outed in 1981 and that was before the Aids crisis erupted. Navratilova also experienced similar misfortunes.

The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, tournaments, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” the WTA told UbiTennis last week.
“The WTA supports LGBT+ projects across the tennis family, such as amplifying our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, increasing awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit into our wider corporate identity, among many other initiatives.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) tells UbiTennis the sport has a ‘proud history of advocating social change.’ The organization oversees the running of all junior events, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Club and the Olympic tennis events.

“Inclusion is one of the ITF’s core values and a pillar of the ITF 2024 strategy. Tennis as a sport has a proud history of advocating social justice and instigating change. Within the tennis community, we embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form. There is always more that can be done, and we will continue to make every effort to ensure that all our participants, our employees and fans feel welcome, included, and respected day in, day out.” The ITF said in a statement.

Whilst the women’s Tour has had plenty of LGBT role models, it is different on the men’s circuit. At present there is no openly gay player in men’s tennis where around 2000 people have an ATP ranking. In recent months the governing body has looked into making the Tour more inclusive. Last year they reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Monash University supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they used to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome.

It has been over nine months since news of the survey taking place emerged but the findings are still to be published. In an email to Ubitennis, the ATP confirmed that they are ‘finalizing their next steps’ and will be making an announcement shortly. They acknowledge that the survey process has taken longer than expected but it is unclear as to why.

As for those who may be experiencing difficulty in their personal lives regarding their sexuality, Brian Vahaly has his own advice which he shared with Ubitennis last year. Vahaly is a former top 100 player who came out as gay after retiring from the sport.

“Find somebody to talk to, somebody you trust. Know that people like us are there if you have questions. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to who can help you learn about yourself,” he said.
“What I try to do is in terms of putting my family forward is that we live a pretty ‘normal life.’ I have two kids, I have a house and I walked my kids to preschool this morning. It doesn’t have to be such a defining characteristic of who you are. In the sports world, it feels that it is magnified, but what I want to show is that you can have a great athletic career, meet somebody and have a family no matter your sexuality.”

Pride is as much about making sports such as tennis an open environment for everyone as it is about marking a series of historic protests which took place in America more than 40 years ago.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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