The ten-time champion of the “Internazionali d’Italia”, Rafael Nadal, who is almost 37 years old, has decided to skip yet another big tournament. He didn’t show up in Rome, and tennis fans around the world were wondering if he would finally participate in the French Open. On May 18th, he called a press conference and announced that his season was over, and it is likely that he will return in 2024 for a farewell tour, competing in events that have been the most meaningful to him throughout his illustrious career. “I have been working as hard as possible every single day for the past four months. It has been a challenging period because we were unable to find a solution to the issue I had in Australia,” Nadal stated, referring to his last appearance in January ’23.
During the first two-week edition of the Italian Open, the weather was terrible, with daily rain and temperatures around 20 degrees. Many matches were suspended, and some had to be completed the following day as retractable roofs, like the ones in Madrid, are not available. Two unexpected Germans reached the quarterfinals in Madrid, and in Rome, Yannick Hanfmann  followed suit. The 31-year-old German, as a qualifier, eliminated two Top 10 players and achieved his career-best result. Another revelation of the tournament was Hungary’s Fábián Marozsán . He advanced to the fourth round, stunning the new world number one, Carlos Alcaraz. The 23-year-old Hungarian qualified for his first main-level event. Just over a year ago, he was more associated with the Futures level, as his ranking hovered around 400.
Daniil Medvedev, who claimed the title, had never won a match in Rome before 2023. He has been exceptional this season, particularly in his ability to win tight sets. Among the 25 sets he has played this year when the score reached 5-all, he has won them on twenty occasions. “I always want to believe in myself, and I always aim to win the biggest tournaments in the world,” said Medvedev, who dropped just one set en route to the title. “However, I never thought I could win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because I usually hated it. I didn’t feel comfortable playing on it, and nothing seemed to work.” In the Race Ranking, he now holds an 845-point advantage over the player ranked number two.
Unfortunately, when compared to the four other Challengers “175” held this year, Turin seems to be of lower caliber. Here is a comparison of the rankings of players seeded at number 8 in Phoenix, Aix-en-Provence, Cagliari, and Bordeaux: 59-59-97-67. In contrast, in Turin, the 97th-ranked player in the world was seeded at number 3, making this event more akin to a Challenger 125 (where typically three players of the Top 100 participate). Jiří Lehečka  could have somewhat salvaged the prestige of the Italian Challenger, but under peculiar circumstances, he entered the qualifying event instead of being seeded at number 1, and eventually retired after losing just four games to an unknown Ukrainian player. Federico Gaio, a 31-year-old Italian, achieved arguably the best result of his career by reaching the final, where he was defeated by Dominik Koepfer , a left-handed German who appeared to be a Top 100 player a few years ago. Because of bad weather he had to play his last two matches the same day… In the second round in Bordeaux, for only the second time in history, two former Grand Slam champions faced each other (38 y.o. Stan Wawrinka defeated 36 y.o. Andy Murray 6-3, 6-0); previously, this occurred in San Remo 1981, when Ilie Năstase defeated Jan Kodeš in a first-round encounter between 35-year-old players. The title in Southwestern France went to Ugo Humbert , who as a teenager had little interest in accumulating points in Challengers on clay, making this surface his weakest at the main level. Humbert has secured two significant Challenger clay-court titles this year, earning him 350 points, roughly equivalent to a Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance. Humbert has collaborated with Jérémy Chardy  this year, a 36-year-old Frenchman who is still actively competing. It is possible that Chardy has influenced Humbert to exhibit more patience during baseline rallies and has contributed to his physical strength development. Another veteran, 37 y.o. Richard Gasquet won the longest tie-break in his career, 16/14 after an 87-minute set (vs Mikael Ymer… 56-52 total points). A few days later, Ymer avenges that loss beating Gasquet in the first round of Lyon (ATP).
The big clay-court event in the Italian capital created a unique situation where as many as three Americans advanced to the semifinals. The all-American final didn’t take place because Goran Ivanišević rather surprisingly eliminated Pete Sampras in a duel between two of the best servers of the 90s. The Croat was less eager to attack the net on clay, which proved to be an efficient tactic in their only meeting on the red surface (they faced each other 18 times; this was their 6th match). Jim Courier defended his title, being more persuasive than the year before with his unparalleled forehand spin, and it seemed that only 18-year-old Andrei Medvedev could prevent him from capturing his third successive French Open title. “This has been a perfect preparation for the Paris,” Courier said. “This is no guarantee as to how I’ll play. But I couldn’t be feeling much better than I’m feeling now.”
Florida hosted the fourth and final event of the season on green American clay, with two serve-and-volley players making it to the final, just like two weeks prior in Georgia. This was not shocking at the time, as there were plenty of serve-and-volleyers in the Top 100, and American clay was somewhere in between European clay and hardcourts in terms of the court speed. 22-year-old Todd Martin claimed his maiden title, but it was expected from him after he showed great potential at the end of 1992 when he lost tight matches to his best compatriots, Courier and Sampras, in Indianapolis and the US Open. 33-year-old Andrés Gómez [WC, 229] – French Open ’90 champion – played his last ATP match losing 6-4, 3-6, 4-6 in the first round.
The 16th edition of the “World Team Cup” in Düsseldorf was won by the United States, their fourth title. Sampras and Michael Chang represented the US, with Chang winning all four of his singles matches and Sampras winning three out of four. In doubles, Richey Reneberg and Patrick McEnroe finished the event with a perfect 4-0 record (8-0 in sets).
The title of a small event in the Emilia-Romagna region went to Jordi Burillo , a 20-year-old Spaniard with very aggressive baseline shots and an over-reliance on dropshots. He became the second qualifier to win an ATP Tour event in 1993, having defeated three Italians in the qualifying rounds and another two in the main draw. Burillo’s last match was exceptionally long (given a “6-1” set), it lasted 3 hours and 17 minutes, but Andrey Cherkasov was among a group of players involved in the longest matches in the first half of the 90s… Richard Krajicek won an exhibition event in Paris with six participants. John McEnroe, who had retired half a year before, took part in the event but quickly lost both his matches.
Rome (Masters 1K, clay outdoors) – week 19/20
(3)🇷🇺Daniil Medvedev d. (7)🇩🇰Holger Rune 7-5, 7-5
Bordeaux (Challenger 175; clay outdoors) – week 20
(5)🇫🇷Ugo Humbert vs. (7)🇦🇷Tomás M. Etcheverry 7-6(3), 6-4
Turin (Challenger 175; clay outdoors)
🇩🇪Dominik Koepfer vs. (q)🇮🇹Federico Gaio 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0
Rome ($1.5M, clay outdoors) – week 19
(2)🇺🇸Jim Courier d. (4)🇭🇷Goran Ivanišević 6-1, 6-2, 6-2
Coral Springs ($275K, green clay outdoors)
(3)🇺🇸Todd Martin d. (2)🇺🇸David Wheaton 6-3, 6-4
“World Team Cup” (8 teams, clay outdoors) – week 20
USA d. Germany 3-0
Bologna ($235K, clay outdoors)
(q)🇪🇸Jordi Burillo d. (4)🇷🇺Andrey Cherkasov 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-1
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