ATP Finals create a buzz in Turin, but will Italian players follow?

TURIN, Italy – There is a huge map of the world in the atrium of the five-star hotel in Turin where the main players stayed during the A...


TURIN, Italy – There is a huge map of the world in the atrium of the five-star hotel in Turin where the main players stayed during the ATP final which ended on Sunday.

It was not the ideal metaphor. If men’s tennis is undoubtedly global, with tournaments on six continents (no Antarctica for the moment), it is not for the moment an intercontinental sport at the top.

As the 2021 touring season draws to a close, the top 10 in singles is uniquely European: Serbian Novak Djokovic, 34, No. 1 at 20. Sinner jannik of Italy at n ° 10.

While there have been some men’s touring executives who thought it would have been a smarter growth strategy and a safer financial decision to take the ATP Finals elsewhere – see Tokyo or Singapore – this is certainly in tune with the time when the year-end touring championship stayed in Europe.

The surprise was that he came to Turin. The ATP Finals were held in London at the O2 Arena from 2009-2020, serving as the second annual serving of high-profile tennis for a big city and major media center that already had Wimbledon.

But Turin, the new host for a five-year race, is a very different and riskier game. Although Turin is the capital of the Italian region of Piedmont, it is only the fourth most populous city in the country behind Rome, Milan and Naples. He has a tennis culture – clubs and courts are common – but does not have a regular male or female touring event and has never produced a major tennis star, although Lorenzo Sonego, 26, native from Turin currently ranked 27th, is training and playing hard to change that (he has wins over Djokovic and 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem).

Fiat, the automaker that once dominated the city, has moved on, leaving an economic vacuum. Turin has its strengths: good wine and food, an Egyptian museum, an elegant city center and the Juventus football club. But what has given it the advantage in indoor tennis is the Pala Alpitour, the largest and most modern of the indoor arenas in Italy. It was built to host ice hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympics, and Turin officials were eager to rekindle the Olympic spirit and increase the city’s international profile with another significant sporting event.

It may be more difficult than they think. The ATP final is arguably the most prestigious annual men’s tennis event outside of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Only the top eight men qualify in singles, and it’s a goal and talking point throughout the season, as well as one of the biggest wins and ranking increases available. An undefeated champion gets 1,500 ranking points: more than any tournament outside of Grand Slam events, where champions get 2,000.

But the ATP Finals are still nowhere near as big as a fishbowl. Winning is important to a champion’s legacy, but not essential. Rafael Nadal never made it, but no one is about to take him off the short list of the game’s greatest players.

Three of the last five ATP Finals champions – Grigor Dimitrov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, winner in 2018 and again on Sunday – have yet to win a Grand Slam title.

But with Nadal, Thiem and Roger Federer out of action for extended periods of time as they recover from significant injuries, Turin made the most of what was available. No.1 Djokovic, No.2 Daniil Medvedev and No.3 Zverev all reached the semi-finals after completing their round robin groups, and all expressed satisfaction with their new playing field, even so Medvedev did it in a grumpy manner and briefly compared it to a minor league. “challenger” event during his opening match when he struggled to get the balls delivered at the pace he preferred before serving.

There were certainly bigger issues, some of which were beyond the control of the organizers. The coronavirus pandemic has made advance planning a challenge. The prize money has been cut in half – from $ 14.5 million to $ 7.25 million – largely due to the reduced capacity of the arena. Although Turin had predicted a limit of 75 percent, the Italian authorities eventually opted for 60 percent, which turned away hundreds of fans in a short time. Once inside there were long lines and a dearth of concessions (the sponsors seemed to be doing well).

But the enthusiasm was real and audible, even with just over 7600 fans in the stands. It was also real in the historic center of Turin, where traders were installing tennis rackets in their shop windows and showcases and the city turned Piazza San Carlo into a tennis village with large video screens and a small court. .

Is it better to take an event like the ATP final to a city in the world where it will be at most a side show or to bring it to a more modest place like Turin where it can and probably will be dominant?

Option n ° 2 has its charms.

“The idea of ​​Turin was that the city would really embrace the event, and we would have done even more if it hadn’t been for Covid,” said Andrea Gaudenzi, president of the ATP Tour. “Overall I think there are a few things that we need to improve, especially in the fan experience outside of the arena when you come without the corporate ticket. But overall I am personally happy with the experience on the court.

The potential downside is that you are creating waves in a small pond instead of ripples in larger uncharted waters which could help develop the game in the long run. As the Big Three near the end of their careers, men’s tennis is surely on the verge of a lull.

But after all the empty stages of the pandemic, the buzz is an even greater virtue, and Italy is in turmoil for tennis, and rightly so. When Turin and the Italian Tennis Federation started pushing for the ATP finals in 2018, Sinner and Matteo Berrettini had yet to break through (and Gaudenzi, a former Italian star, had yet to become president of ATP).

As it turned out, Berrettini, 25, a Wimbledon finalist this year, qualified directly for Turin and when he had to withdraw after a game with an abdominal injury, Sinner was ready to step in as that replacing. The atmosphere when he was playing was the best of the week.

“We could never have imagined that two Italian players would take part in the first ATP final in Turin,” said Angelo Binaghi, president of the Italian Tennis Federation.

That’s quite a bonus, and in light of Sinner and Berrettini’s youth and talent, it might not be a one-time bonus.

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Newsrust - US Top News: ATP Finals create a buzz in Turin, but will Italian players follow?
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