Sport  |  Tennis  

Italian Open of hope, nostalgia

By Jacob Akindele   |   24 May 2017   |   3:26 am  

Novak Djokovic.GLYN KIRK / AFP


A week ago, the Internazionale d’Italia commenced at the Foro Italico, an arena reminiscent of Roman architecture. The tournament was the fourth in the Clay court season of Europe, flagged off in Monte Carlo. Rafael Nadal, the Matador on the red sand, won the title in the Municipality and also in Barcelona and Madrid. It seemed an unending streak for him until Thiem (the finalist in Madrid) defeated him in Rome, raising hopes of a change of guards in men’s tennis. It was Alexander Zverez (Sascha) who justified the expectations when he defeated Novak Djokovic 6/4; 6/3 in the finals; marking the advent of the next generation at the apex of the game.

Novak Djokovic reached the Rome finals without dropping a set. He defeated Argentine’s Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarters. In the semi-finals, he sent out a battle-weary Dominic Thiem who had retaliated his two successive finals losses to Nadal in Barcelona and Madrid by ending the Spaniard’s 17-match winning streak.

The ATP Tour had launched a new tournament for players under 21 years of age. The Rome title placed the 20-year old Austrian atop the list of those who will compete in the maiden edition in Milano on November 7. His fellow German language speaking Dominic Thiem will not be competing, at age 23 but has the best performance so far this year, to attain the number seven ranking. Sascha also gained the fourth place in the race to the season-ending ATP Tour finals in London.

The other promising players are David Goffin of Belgium and the erratic talented Australian Mark Kyrgios.The victor in Rome has had a roller coaster record this year. He had a chance of upsetting Rafael Nadal in the round of 32, when he won the first and third sets but succumbed to the experience of the eventual finalist. He won the tournament in Montpellier France in February. In Miami, he defeated John Isner in three tiebreaks and Stan Warwinka in three sets before falling to Nick Kyrgios 4/6; 7/6; 3/6. He lost to Hyeon Nadal in the second round of Monte Carlo and to Hyeon Chung in the second round of Barcelona. He won the title at the BMW Open in Munich.

Thiem lost to David Goffin at the Australian Open despite taking the first set. He lost to Pierre Herbert in the quarterfinals at Rotterdam but won the title in Rio de Janeiro, over Carreno-Busta. He lost in the quarterfinal at Acapulco but narrowly missed a victory over Warwinka in a three-set match at Indian Wells. He lost early to Brian Coric in Miami and had a close match in losing to David Goffin at Monte Carlo. Thiem also lost the finals to Nadal in Barcelona and Madrid. After Thiem dismissed Nadal in the quarter-finals of the Rome event, it looked like he would win his first title in Rome. His lopsided 6/1; 6/0 loss to Djokovic in the semi-finals raised questions of match fatigue. His record in 2017 has been spectacular.

The great legend, Rod Laver, handed the winner’s trophy to Alexander Zverez. The pose for the cameras had Djokovic to the right and Zverez to the left of the first Grand Slam Winner. It depicted three generations.

In winning the concluding Masters 1000 Clay court tournament, the German became the youngest player to do so and climbed to the top ten in the rankings. This is apt, as Rome is where dreams are realized, in a prevailing atmosphere of La Dolce Vita.

As we look ahead to the Grand Slam Tournament on Clay in Stade Roland Garros, Paris, the players leave Italia with nostalgia and say: La Vita es belle! (Life is beautiful). Gratias Roma. Ciao!



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