On September 12, Italian tennis was in an unrivalled win-win situation. To a nation it really didn’t matter who out of Flavia Pennetta or Roberta Vinci walked away with the US Open trophy and the 3.3 million dollar prize money.
I’m a dedicated tennis follower, and as a Brit never in my lifetime have I had the luxury of seeing two of my fellow countrymen in a Grand Slam final. Maybe I never will: it rarely occurs. But Italian tennis is on the up and it’s a crying shame that the sport is failing to receive the national media coverage that it deserves.
In the UK whenever Andy Murray plays, the BBC airs the game; if a little-known Brit gets beyond the third round of any tournament, we break open the Pimm’s and a national celebration takes place on a par with the Queen’s Jubilee. As a nation, we’re inherently tennis mad. So, you can imagine my utter disbelief when I discovered that national broadcaster Rai was not going to be televising such an historic event as two Italian women in the US Open grand slam final. (The honour curiously fell to music television channel Deejay TV, which is actually not as insane as it sounds, since it’s part of the L’Espresso publishing group.)
Instead of focusing on sending the October issue of The Florentine to press (forgive me), I spent most of last weekend at my tennis club as a spectator. Riding the wave of success in the sport, Tennis Curiel in Pontassieve, 30 minutes from Florence, a club with just two courts, accomplished something extraordinary. For 10 days, 52 high-calibre tennis players from all over Italy took to the clay in a fiercely contested 3,000-euro men’s open tournament. The event was impeccably organized from start to finish: perfect court care, superb social media coverage, live streaming from the local radio station and television channel, an apericena social every night and even Ikea blankets to ward off the chill of late-night matches. It took tennis back to basics, to a club’s function as a community hub. The perfect game brings people together; it sparks conversation between strangers; it elicits joy, then despair; it instils values and morals; it’s life in miniature.
As Andre Agassi said in his autobiography, Open, ‘Tennis reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest.’ I have no doubt that this is Italian tennis’ finest hour, at every level.
Daniele Giorgini won the first Giorgio Sieni Memorial in Pontassieve, beating Italian top 20 player Matteo Trevisan in a closely fought match 7-6, 6-1.