Italian tennis has always had a bittersweet flavor. It has never fully developed into a powerful movement although it has garnered some extraordinary results, especially when the male and female national teams are involved in the Davis and the Federation Cups. Beginning in 1922, Italy participated every year in the main Davis Cup World group until the year 2000, the only country able to pull off such a feat. Sadly, it has not qualified since. The record shows seven finals and one victory in 1976, with Adriano Panatta, Corrado Barazzutti, Paolo Bertolucci, and Zugarelli playing; the captain of that team was Nicola Pietrangeli who as a player still holds the Italian record for most Davis Cup games played. The women's team has moved in the opposite direction. Relatively silent from 1963 until 2006, they astonished the world by winning their first final in the Federation Cup. They lost the final in 2007 but repeated their victory 2009 and 2010.
The most prestigious players are Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Panatta for the men and Francesca Schiavone for the women. They seem to be the only players able to win a grand slam title, with Pietrangeli the only one with two titles. Ironically, all of them have won only the French Open at Rolland Garros. Other players who made a difference were Corrado Barazzutti, Laura Garrone, and Flavia Pennetta. The others, although willing, somehow never obtained strong results and never ranked in the key leading positions. Panatta and Schiavone indeed are the only ones to have reached at least number six in the world ranking. Corrado Barazzutti was able to reach number seven and a couple of grand slam semi-finals. He is currently enjoying a second career as a coach of both the female and male national teams and is the strategic mind behind the successes in the Federation Cup.
From Italia Grecia 2009
Unfortunately, Italian tennis is in chronic crisis and interest in playing is drying up. For decades the sport has relied on the success of a very few players, and it never truly grew as a movement. The recent women's Federation Cup wins showed a shift in female tennis, but with the exception of Schiavone winning in Paris, the actual tournament winners worldwide very rarely speak Italian. Even at the amateur level, tennis clubs have lost the trendy moment of the 1980s and it seems to be harder and harder for youngsters to become the new champions.
At the international level Italy organizes several ATP tournaments, but only the one in Rome does have the strong prestige and appeal that invites the best players. The tournament usually takes place in May and is played on clay, Italy's traditional favorite surface and the one that has given it the best results in its tennis history. The tournament is hosted in the Olympic facility in the middle of Rome, right next to the stadium. Every year, it attracts thousands of fans and many social events occur in tandem, including evening parties and public gatherings.
An important mention should go to the Italian clothing designers that, for generations, dressed some of the best players, including top international stars. We remember Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini, and Diadora, the three most important designers associated with tennis celebrities such as Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, Gabriela Sabatini, Pete Sampras, and more.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that Italy has always loved tennis and on some level has mastered it one way or another, but it is surely far behind the U.S. or Spain when it comes to the strength of its players. Some say this is due to a problem with money and financing the system, others claim that it is more a matter of lack of both interest and a will to sacrifice. Whatever the reason, until something changes in the country's tennis drive, for the time being, Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta are all that Italian tennis can offer.