One of Europe’s largest countries has historically underperformed on the ATP Tour, but the Italian men are looking to change the present and future.
Modern tennis history has not been kind to Italian men, as the ATP Tour and the Grand Slams have seen a lack of success from such a major country. The UK has had Andy Murray, Germany had Boris Becker and now Zverev, Spain has had more champions than one can count, and even smaller nations have seen much more success, such as Sweden or Switzerland.
Taking a step back from 2020, the tennis record books do not often bear the il Tricolore among their pages. Only two Italian men have won a major, and only one of those two came since the beginning of the Open Era in 1968. Nicola Pietrangeli won back-to-back French Open titles over six decades ago, in 1959 and 1960 respectively. More recently, Adriano Panatta won the 1976 French Open, defeating Bjorn Borg on the red clay in the quarterfinals in four sets.
With over forty years since the last Italian man even made a grand slam final, there are few modern memories of a successful Italian men’s tennis scene. Now, however, there has been a noticeable shift in both the current and future outlook for Italy, with Berrettini and Fognini going strong, as well as the rise of two young teenagers that may take the tour by storm: Lorenzo Musetti (18) and Jannik Sinner (19).
Recently, some of the older Italian players have made great strides on the tour. Fognini won the 2019 Monte Carlo Masters, defeating Nadal in the semifinals en route. He became the first Italian man to win a Masters 1000 title since the series began in 1990. Additionally, 2018 and 2019 both saw Italian men reach the semifinals of majors (Cecchinato at the 2018 FO and Berrettini at the 2019 USO), the best results since Panatta’s victory in 1976.
The 2020 Italian Open in Rome also gave a glimpse of a new Italian men’s future, with both Sinner and Musetti making runs to the third round. The former took down Benoit Paire and then upset Tsitsipas in three sets before falling to Dmitrov in three sets. The latter, sporting a one-hand backhand, made it through qualifying and then defeated Wawrinka and Nishikori, both in straight sets, before falling to fellow qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the third round.
Taking down members of the old guard and the Next Gen capped an impressive week for Italy in Italy. Sinner delighted with an all-court game, coming to the net and serving well. Musetti’s forehand and backhand were firing on all cylinders as he rolled through a former French Open champ and a 2019 RG quarterfinalist. Now, Sinner and Musetti are currently the highest-ranked teenagers in the world (74 and 180).
The present is already better than the past four decades. The future, with a Top 10 Berrettini, Top 20 Fognini, and the two best teenagers on the tour, puts Italy in a great spot to take over as the Big-3’s time ends. Maybe, this year’s French Open could be the showcase.