We The Italians | Italian sport: The prince of Italian tennis turns 90

Italian sport: The prince of Italian tennis turns 90

Italian sport: The prince of Italian tennis turns 90

  • WTI Magazine #167 Sep 23, 2023
  • 226

On September 11th, Nicola Pietrangeli, the strongest tennis player Italy has ever had, turned 90 years old. To this day Pietrangeli still represents a true tennis icon both for his Slam victories and for his lifestyle envied by all tennis players around the world.

He spoke five languages, traveled the world far and wide, practiced different professions to get to the top, was first a good soccer player and then a fantastic tennis player. When he stopped playing he became a successful actor and TV host, and, this he tells his friends and in interviews, was a real playboy with more than 1400 women conquered including actresses, showgirls and models.

He is the only Italian in history to have a stadium named after him since he is still alive (by Italian law, stadiums, streets, squares and any public property can only be named after a person has died). It is called the Nicola Pietrangeli Tennis Stadium in Rome and every year the best tennis players in the world play there during the Internazionali d'Italia, the clay court tournament of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 circuit.  

Pietrangeli has lived a life worthy of an Oscar movie. He was born in Africa, in Tunisia then governed by the French, to a father born in Tunis but of Italian parents, and a Russian mother whose father was Danish. Father was an entrepreneur and also a sportsman who loved rugby and tennis. During World War II, the family home was destroyed by bombing, and when the Allies occupied Tunisia his father Giulio was arrested. In the prison camp Nicola is also locked up, and he learns to play tennis with his father, even winning the first tournament of his life.

When the war ended, his family was expelled from Tunisia and they moved to Italy, to Rome, where young Nicola began playing soccer with Lazio, the oldest team in the capital, and tennis at the prestigious club in Parioli, the neighborhood of Rome where the VIPs live. When he realized that he would not be able to become a great soccer player, he decided to devote himself only to tennis, and within a few years he would begin a career that no other Italian has been able to match to this day, also becoming a beloved figure to audiences around the world for his style of play and his Latin charm. He reached the highlight of his career in the late 1950s, when he became number 3 in the world and won Roland Garros, the Paris Slam tournament, for two consecutive years, in 1959 and 1960.

At that time Pietrangeli was unbeatable on red clay and became the most famous and beloved sportsman among Italians. He retired from tennis at age 41 with a record of 48 tournaments won in singles (687 matches won and 278 lost), 10 in doubles, including Roland Garros in 1959, and 12 in mixed doubles. As a Davis Cup player, moreover, Pietrangeli won silver twice (1960 and 1961), and in 1976, as non-player captain of the national team, he won the first and only Davis Cup in Italian history.

Thanks to his outstanding career, he is the only Italian tennis player inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and he still attends major international tennis tournaments at age 90. He is still very popular and beloved by Italians, and more than 60 years later he still remains the only Italian to have won Roland Garros twice.