As far as tennis venues go, there is nowhere like the Foro Italico – a structure that is stunning to look at, yet equally conflicting, considering it has a monument erected at its centre inscribed ‘Mussolini Dux’ in celebration of Fascist Italy.
Rome’s sports complex that was built in the 1930s has an ugly history but now plays host to several events including the ATP/WTA Italian Open.
You’re taken aback when you arrive at the Foro. There are incredible marble statues surrounding the courts, which are ampitheatres offering brilliant views of the tennis and bringing fans ever so close to the players.
Rome’s famous stone pine trees are scattered all over the venue and the colour contrast between the orange clay and the white and green surroundings is a sight for sore eyes.
Fans fill up the stands from the start of qualifying until the very end of the tournament, and the whole place was shaking as they cheered home veteran Roberta Vinci in the last singles match of her career on Monday.
With it being a combined event, getting access to a practice court is a tough ask sometimes and players during the early stages of the tournament often have to share.
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) May 14, 2018
That results in fun combinations on court, with Maria Sharapova hitting with Rafael Nadal yesterday, and Jelena Ostapenko practicing on the same half of the court as Denis Shapovalov.
Despite the chaos and the craziness of the Italian Open, players and journalists love coming to Rome.
Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 2 seed here, may not be a huge fan of clay, but she is very clear on how her off-court agenda looks like when she’s in the Eternal City.
Asked what some of her must-dos are in Rome each year, Wozniacki quickly replied: “The food. We’re getting a list of the restaurants to try out here, so definitely going to try out Italian cuisine, there’s nothing better than a good pasta in my opinion.”
Can’t argue with that!
The Coliseum and the Vatican are also on her list.
Meanwhile, Juan Martin del Potro was frank when talking about why he can find clay so challenging, despite hailing from a clay-loving nation like Argentina.
“I don’t like to run too much,” confessed Del Potro.
Yet another thing I have in common with the big man!
The 21-year-old stretched his run of consecutive set wins to 18 with his 6-4 6-4 success, which follows on from his triumph on clay at the BMW Open in Munich last week.
Thiem had stunned the seemingly unstoppable Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals but could not repeat the feat against Zverev.
Zverev won the title with a thrillingly aggressive performance, breaking Thiem in his opening service game and not giving the Austrian any chance of a break back as he took the first set.
Zverev continued to serve so strongly that another break on Thiem’s first service game of the second set always looked likely to prove decisive.
Thiem was forced to save two more break points and Zverev – who did not face a single break point on his own serve – served out to take the title in style.
✅ Sin ceder un set
✅ Sin perder un saque
— Mutua Madrid Open (@MutuaMadridOpen) May 13, 2018
Victory makes Zverev only the fifth player, after the so-called ‘big four’ of Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, to win three career ATP Masters 1000 titles.
Triple Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka struggled on his return from a knee injury as he was beaten 6-4 6-4 by American Steve Johnson in the first round of the Rome Masters.
The 33-year-old has missed three months following a knee operation and his defeat to world number 55 Johnson underlined the work he still needs to do to get back the top of the sport.
Twelfth seed Sam Querrey was upset 6-2 7-6 (9/7) by Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk while other first-round winners were Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock and Italian wild card Lorenzo Sonego.
Stan Wawrinka admits there were times he was not sure if he’d be “strong enough” to find his way back during his lengthy break from tennis due to knee surgery he underwent last August.
The Swiss former world No. 3 spent six months on the sidelines from Wimbledon last year until January. He came back to action at the Australian Open but played just seven matches in four tournaments before stopping again in February.
The three-time Grand Slam champion finally made his return on Sunday, nearly three months later, losing 6-4, 6-4 to American Steve Johnson in the Rome Masters first round.
“It was really tough, some tough moments, especially seven months after surgery you still have pain, you still have things you cannot do, you question yourself a lot,” confessed Wawrinka when addressing reporters in the Italian capital on Sunday.
“I had some days I wasn’t sure I would be strong enough to keep working and to keep trying. But I had the chance to have a great team around me and that really helped me to get through those tough days that you need to keep going through fitness, training with the pain, and keep pushing.
“Trying to put all the negative stuff outside, see the line and keep being patient. It’s completely different now, where I am mentally because since two weeks I could practice full, almost without any pain.
“So it’s enjoyable to see that and now I can finally really talk about tennis, focus about my game, trying to improve, trying to find my game and that’s really good after so long.”
Wawrinka dedicated the majority of the past three months to working on his fitness, and says he only started practicing tennis full on 12 days ago.
He reunited with his former coach Magnus Norman, who had parted ways with him in October last year, and Wawrinka is hopeful they will continue to work together until the end of the season.
“We will see,” Wawrinka said when asked whether his reunion with Norman is a long-term arrangement.
“He came to Switzerland when I started practicing full in tennis, only two weeks ago, to help the team and since then we’re still seeing how it’s going to happen. But for sure he’s going to keep working with me hopefully the full year.”
In retrospect, returning at the Australian Open seemed premature for Wawrinka but he explained that it was necessary to test himself in matches to see how his knee would react.
He is disappointed by his defeat to Johnson, but is pleased with his level.
Wawrinka has a lot of points to defend this upcoming stretch, having won Geneva last year and reached the final of the French Open. But he’s trying not to put too much pressure on himself in his comeback and knows that patience will be key for him.
“I need to really be patient and accept a loss like today even if I’m frustrated and I feel like I could have won the match today,” said the 33-year-old.
“I have to be patient with what’s going to happen the next few months. But at the same time I’m pushing myself to get some wins, get some matches, and try to play as many tournaments as I can because I’ve been practicing enough for the last few months.
“Now I just want to play matches, get my rhythm, get ready mentally on those important points and I know that it can turn quickly. So I’m focusing on trying to do that.”
He added: “Honestly if I look at my level in practice, physically and also tennis, I think I’m close to my top level. Still I have a lot of work to do, I still need a lot of time to play matches, keep trying to play week after week to find the confidence back because it can take time. We can see with other players coming back from long and tough injuries, it’s never easy.
“It’s not only about physical or tennis, but also mentally to find confidence. I need to patient. But I’m positive because my level is really high.”