May/19

10

Loving Rome

 

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By Aaron
We have been fortunate as a family to travel to many tournaments outside of our home base of New York. We have been to the French Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Newport, Madrid,  Monte Carlo and Montreal. With that said we found Rome to be our favorite destination for a tennis expedition. I traveled there in 2018 with my brothers my son and daughter.
The grounds of the Italian open are expansive and very fan friendly.  Center court seats around 11,000 so even in the high rows you feel that you are still part of the action unlike Arthur Ashe Stadium. Their next show court is called Next Gen. It is very small and intimate and probably seats no more than 3,000.
The grandstand Court known as Pietrangeli is easily the most aesthetically pleasing tennis court I have ever sat in to watch a match. The seats are made of stone and appeared to be right out of the medieval ages. There are no backs to the seats. On the top of the stadium are statues of Romanesque art and you could easily imagine yourself in the Louvre. The court  seats 4000 people and when you sit behind the court as we frequently did you are right on top of the players. You enter the court from the top as it is built below ground sunken into the earth.
All three show courts are separated from each other by a good distance to avoid congestion.
The field courts are arranged in an amphitheater like way. There are six in total and they are lined up in three groups of two. The three rows are parallel to each other and spectators sit above them in almost a circular fashion. What this means is that you can watch multiple courts  from the same seat at one time. For example if you positioned yourself in the middle of courts one and two you could easily watch both simultaneously.
Access to the players is a little bit more difficult in Rome than other venues. In the field courts players enter and exit their courts through a protected path surrounded by gates on both sides that leads from the players locker room out. So your only chance of getting an autograph or picture is when players exit the court if the player agreed to stop and even there you would be separated by the fence. In the grandstand and stadium courts players enter and exit through an underground tunnel so there is no access.
The practice courts are  on the other side of the complex a good distance away the field courts. There you do  have access to players as they exit the court. There are no dedicated bleachers to watch but you could stand behind the court with a perfect vantage site. In fact we watched Jared Donaldson and Ryan Harrison warm up one day and thoroughly enjoyed it.
There were wonderful shops to buy clothing and souvenirs at the venue. There was plenty of pizza and ice cream as well. The only shortcoming is that there are very few bathrooms in the complex so one  needs to learn exactly where they are on the first day to appropriately plan. It rained a lot more than we liked while we were there and they do not do a really good job in covering the court which leads to long rain delays
Public transportation is not ideal in terms of how to get to the tennis venue. We used taxis and Uber‘s and because the complex is centrally located it was not too expensive.
In terms of the tennis it was spectacular. On Saturday we went to the qualifying rounds. We were fortunate to watch Francis Tiafoe in the grandstand win his match against a local Italian. We watched poor Christina McHale lose and then get lost on her way out as she was forced to walk up the regular stands to exit. She played on court six and the court seats if you could call it that were made of almost all marble and were very steep and more like rows of rocks  than individual chairs.
We then went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for the first two rounds. We saw an unbelievable match on a field court where Philip Kohlschreiber fought off match point to defeat Karen Khachanov.  Other highlights were seeing Diego Schwartzman defeat Nicholas Jarry and  Danielle Collins beat Sorana  Cirstea. Damir Dzumhar has was very impressive in upsetting Fernando Verdasco. Unfortunately my favorite player Jared Donaldson lost to Pablo Carreno Busta In Next Gen.  We had bought tickets to Next Gen on Monday and Court Centrale  Tuesday and Wednesday. But interestingly, except to watch Dominic Thiem lose to Fabio Fognini, I never once went  into the main stadium. Individual tickets are sold to Center court and Next GEN so you have to pick one.
The highlight matches were all on the grandstand. In one day I was able to watch Joker who at that time was ranked 18 in the world defeat Basilashvilli from the fourth row behind the court. I knew at that moment something special was going on with him and sure enough in a few months he had won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That match was followed by Del Potro defeating Tsitsipas and anyone there that day  knew that the Greek God was something special. I know of no other tournament where you could get such close access to such competitive matches. And the tickets themselves were not that expensive, running around $70 a person per day.
Some of the other highlights of Rome include the wonderful tourist attractions. We took in the Sistine Chapel the Vatican the Colosseum and the Forum, Spanish Steps,  Trevi fountain and many more. And as a final highlight we were fortunate enough to stay at the Waldorf Astoria which is, simply put, one of the most magnificent hotels in the world. The pool is spectacular with amazing trees surrounding it. The buffet breakfast was as good as any I have eaten in my life. And who could argue with having breakfast every morning with big John Isner sitting right next to you on one side and Thomas Berdych on the other side. Several other players we saw at the hotel included both Williams sisters, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova. But I will save the best story for last.
The hotel has its own clay tennis Court and one day I decided to go out and hit with my 10-year-old son. When we arrived to the court who do we see exiting but none other than Novak Djokovic. There was no one else near him. I introduced myself and my son to him and he could not have been nicer as he posed for a photo with my 10-year-old side-by-side with their rackets. The only thing missing was my son getting a chance to rally with the Joker but maybe that will happen next time! To think we played on the court immediately after one of the greatest players of all time. That is a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
I encourage anyone who can to try and make this trip to the Rome 1000 ATP tennis tournament. You will not regret it.

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14 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 10, 2019 at 9:19 am

    A delightful read about first time adventures at the Rome tournament and a dream come true moment with the best player in the world. Thanks for sharing this experience Aaron which helps many of us who have never been to Rome, actually get a sense and feel for being there too. My bucket list just got longer.

  • catherine · May 12, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Interesting piece – but of course it’s a WTA tournament as well. Used to be called the Italian Open. Never visited the Eternal City myself but the tournament was well known for food, drink and general hospitality. Sounds like it still is. Line calling was generally considered to favour Italians but I imagine there is Hawkeye now.

    In her autobiography Julie Heldman recalls winning the title in the ’60s. The women’s final was played on court 6, the Italians being not too keen on women’s tennis, and Julie won $800. Later on the women’s event migrated temporarily to Perugia and then when it returned to Rome Steffi Graf refused to play there one year because an Italian reporter wrote she had a face like a potato. Gabriela Sabatini was considered an Italian so she was welcome.

    Adriano Pannatta was the girl’s fan favourite. He used to light up a cigarette during chats to the press after matches, which tells you how long ago that was.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 12, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    Catherine, Karsten Braasch used to light up cigarettes on changeovers, one guy told me he witnessed Braasch do this at the Tampa tournament in the early 90s. He said Braasch also ordered a ballboy to get him cans of beer during the match. Apparently our correspondent in Rome may have missed the fact there were some WTA matches going on or he had tunnel vision on the players he really wanted to see 🙂 Women’s tennis does not float everyone’s boat but we know the panacea for that – watch a match with Su Wei Hsieh in either singles or doubles, she can make anyone love women’s tennis with her unique creative style of play.

  • catherine · May 13, 2019 at 2:18 am

    Scoop – women’s tennis didn’t flourish in Rome because the pressureless Tretorn balls which were used years ago were heavy and favoured long grinding baseline rallies – fairly tedious to watch. The year Julie H won the singles BJK lost to Kerry Melville (Aust)in SS,0 in 2nd set. BJ probably didn’t find s/v a rewarding strategy at the Foro Italico.

    Of course Italy’s own Lea Pericoli was always popular – partly because she used her appearances on court as opportunities to make a fashion statement. Glamour girls today have nothing on Lea. Camilla Giorgi is channelling her I suspect. But she hasn’t Lea’s elegance.

    PS – no, there isn’t Hawkeye in Rome. Why not on clay ?

  • Dan Markowitz · May 13, 2019 at 8:04 am

    There’s no Hawkeye on any of the clay events as far as I know because umpires can come out of the chair and check the mark. Of course, it’s not so easy to get the right mark or to tell if a ball actually skidded off the line or not. Yesterday, Fucosiks or the Hungarian, got so upset on a crucial call in second set loss to Basavili or however you spell his name, that after the match he took his phone out and photographed the mark he thought he’d gotten robbed on.

  • catherine · May 13, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Yes I saw that. I’m surprised more players don’t do it. Just to make their feelings known. There were some dodgy calls in Madrid.

    Serena playing Peterson and looks well in charge but Peterson is offering so little opposition that it’s difficult to judge. Maybe Serena a bit slow.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 13, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Serena looks a little better, lighter, she is clearly very VERY determined to get that record of Court.

  • catherine · May 13, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Serena served 10 aces but some of her opponents are going to be better returners than Peterson.

    Has Serena broken Steffi’s record ? Margaret Court’s is one more I think.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 13, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    Yes, Serena passed Graf and is now hunting Court’s record. Will be very interesting to watch her give it her all to get it. Could she snap again? Does she need to generate her ultimate beast mode to do it? Will it be enough?

  • catherine · May 14, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Wozniaki retires (again), Sabalenka loses (again – 12 dfs this time), Yastremska loses (again) but Kasatkina wins. Will Tursunov’s patience run out soon ? Aryna lost to Cornet. Clay isn’t her best surface but 12 dfs don’t come from the ground. So many young players come along in the WTA, promise a lot and then poof ! they’re gone. Off to ITF events or gone forever. Don’t know if Hartt saw the article but Stephanie Myles wrote about this kind of thing in Tennis Life recently.

    Feel for Caroline but looks as if her career may be coming to a close.

  • catherine · May 14, 2019 at 11:49 am

    Serena withdraws from Rome – knee injury. I think the cartilage has gone.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 14, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Don’t always believe what a player says about an injury. She finished the match without showing pain. I think the big problem is the recovery and the inflammation and the pressure on her ankle and knee joints. The big body pounding on the lower joints is brutal for any player over 35 and especially one who has such a big body as her with so much mileage, so many hard court matches and practices since like age 9. She has no shock absorbers left in her legs to recover the next day. I experience this many times since late 30, it’s very hard. Her pulling out today does not correlate with that happy interview she did with Prakash Armritraj after the match yesterday where she was laughing and smiling like we never saw her so happy before. Something does not add up here.

  • catherine · May 14, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Maybe Serena is at the stage now, like many older players, when she gets through a fairly easy match and feels ok and then the next day the symptoms are bad again. The same knee has been bothering her since she returned to playing. As you say, it’s the recovery. I can’t see her making much impact this year and although she has mentioned competing next year, I’d rule that out.

    Of course in GSs she’ll have a day between matches but I’m still doubtful. In her press conference after the match she didn’t seem overwhelmingly happy – just normal. My feeling is that she knows when she’s going to retire.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 14, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    She was really happy and animated in the interview with Prakash Armritraj on Tennis Channel after the match, no sign of any pain or suffering. She did the interview standing up too. It has to be the recovery. There is just no way to remedy this. And for her it as to be even more acute considering her body type, weight and stress on her lower joints. Like I said, it’s a miracle she has lasted this long. Bartoli and Seles were both heavier women and they didn’t come close to making it to even 35.

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