We The Italians | Italian sport: Adriano Panatta, the Italian tennis Lord

Italian sport: Adriano Panatta, the Italian tennis Lord

Italian sport: Adriano Panatta, the Italian tennis Lord

  • WTI Magazine #129 Jul 19, 2020
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Tennis has been one of the most popular sports in Italy since the beginning of the 20th century, but despite its widespread diffusion, few Italian male and female players have managed to become great champions over the course of a century. Among them there is Adriano Panatta, a Roman tennis player who turned 70 years old this July 9th, a goal that has been celebrated by the Italian press for several days because he is considered a legend of this sport. Panatta is not only the strongest Italian tennis player ever, but also one of the most famous international athletes for his incredible career.

As a child he dreamed of becoming a professional swimmer, but fate was on his side because his father Ascenzio was the keeper of the Parioli Tennis Club, the most prestigious tennis club in Rome. When he was 6 years old, his father convinced him to take tennis lessons and he accepted. After 3 years he changes club and masters and moves to EUR, the Roman quarter designed for the 1942 Universal Exhibition which was not held because of the Second World War. In a short time he shows great potential and is included in the youth national team, participating in the first international junior tournaments with good results. At the age of 18, Panatta is already a mature tennis player and begins his long career in Open tournaments and the Davis Cup.

Italy, in the 70s, was in the midst of its economic "boom" and the widespread prosperity pushed Italians to the "good life". Playing tennis after work had become a fashion even for the middle class, so much so that sneakers were called "tennis shoes" in slang and were also used to go to work. Even polo shirts, until then worn only by tennis players on the court, became a fashion, with Italians wearing Lacoste in the office or to go to dinner.

Tennis, therefore, became a model for society and Panatta quickly became a star and a sex symbol for women. The most important Italian tennis tournament, the Internazionali d'Italia, which takes place in Rome, is always sold out and when Panatta plays on the central court, everyone goes crazy for him. Throughout the 70s, his name is synonymous with tennis. Everyone wants to become "Panatta", the media talk about him, sponsors look for him, VIPs invite him to parties and even politics talk about him. All this, of course, because he manages to win like no Italian tennis player has ever done before.

His winning career began in 1970, when he became Italian champion by beating the other Italian legend, Nicola Pietrangeli, at that time 37 years old, in the final. In the same year he reached the eighth finals at Roland Garros, the most important French tennis tournament, and debuted in the Davis Cup winning a single and a double match. In 1971, in Senigallia, Marche, he won his first ATP tournament, becoming the first Italian in history capable of the feat since tournaments were open to amateurs and professionals. Since that first international victory, he never stopped.

In 1973 he scored 6 ATP finals in one year, a record for an Italian tennis player, he reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and entered the top 10 of the world ranking. The successes and the engagement with Loredana Bertè, one of the most famous Italian pop stars in those years, make him more and more an icon in Italy.

1976 is the year he became the "Lord" of world tennis. He won the Internazionali di Tennis d'Italia by beating the Argentinean Guillermo Vilas in the final, and then the Roland Garros by beating the Washington tennis player Harold Solomon in the final. No Italian before and after him has ever won the two tournaments in the same year.

But 1976 does not end with the two historic victories. From December 17 to 19, at the Estadio Nacional de Chile in Santiago, the lager stadium of dictator Pinochet, together with Corrado Barazzutti and Tonino Zugarelli, Panatta wins the Davis Cup, the first and also the last to date for Italy. Those three days of challenges are remembered by all Italians because the Italian Government, which had broken international relations with Chile after the Allende era, was divided about the participation of the Italian team in the tournament. In the end they authorized the away match but on the evening of the last match, state television did not broadcast the challenge live in protest. It was a national issue that was talked about for decades by politicians, journalists, philosophers and writers, but the victory brought everyone on the same side. In 1976, Panatta set another Italian record, rising to 4th place in the international ranking.

At the end of his career, in addition to his previous ones, Panatta set other records. Ten tournaments of the major circuit won in singles and 18 in doubles, two titles of the current World Tour Masters 1000, the highest number of victories (22) against opponents placed in the top 10 of the ranking and the only one to have won an ATP tournament defeating in the final the No. 1 of the ranking. To the greatest Italian tennis player in history, our best wishes for his 70 years.