ATP Finals Are Creating a Buzz In Turin, But Will Italy’s Players Follow?

TURIN, Italy — There is a huge world map in the courtyard of the five-star hotel in Turin, where the leading players stayed during the ATP Finals that ended on Sunday.

It was not an ideal metaphor. While men’s tennis is undoubtedly global, with tournaments on six continents (no Antarctica for now), it is not currently an international sport.

As the 2021 touring season draws to a close, the top 10 in singles are only in Europe: from 34-year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic to #1, 20-year-old jannik sinner 10th of Italy

While there are some male tour managers who believe that taking the ATP Finals elsewhere would be a wiser growth strategy and a safer financial decision – see. in Europe.

The surprise was that came to Turin. The ATP Finals were held at the O2 Arena in London from 2009 to 2020, serving as big tennis’s second annual vice for a major city and major media center that already owns Wimbledon.

But Torino, the new host of a five-year run, is a very different and riskier game. Although Turin is the capital of Italy’s Piedmont region, it is only the fourth most populous city in the country after Rome, Milan and Naples. There is a tennis culture – clubs and courts are common – but there are no regular men’s or women’s touring events, and while 26-year-old Lorenzo Sonego from Turin, currently ranked 27th, has been training and playing hard, has never produced a major tennis star. To change that (he has victories 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: fine wine and food, an Egyptian museum, an elegant city center and Juventus football club. But what gave him the edge for indoor tennis was Italy’s largest and most up-to-date indoor court, the Pala Alpitour. It was built to host ice hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympics, and Turin’s leaders were eager to rekindle the Olympic spirit and raise the city’s international profile with another major sporting event.

This may be more difficult than they think. The ATP Finals are 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 are one of the biggest paydays and ranking increases available, in addition to being a season-long goal and talking point. An undefeated champion receives 1,500 ranking points: more than any tournament whose champions score 2,000, except for Grand Slam events.

But the ATP Finals still aren’t as big as an aquarium. Winning is important to a champion’s legacy, but not essential. Rafael Nadal has never made it, but no one is about to remove him from the shortlist of the game’s top players.

Three of the last five ATP Final champions – Grigor Dimitrov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, who won again in 2018 and on Sunday – have yet to win any Grand Slam titles.

But Nadal, Thiem and Roger Federer Long off the field as they recovered from major injuries, Turin got the best of what was available. Djokovic No. 1, Daniil Medvedev No. 2 and No. All 3 Zverevs advanced to the semi-finals by entering the semi-finals, and all expressed satisfaction with the new playing fields, although Medvedev was grumpy and briefly compared it to a minor league. The “challenge” event during the opening match when he has trouble delivering the balls to him at his preferred pace before serving.

There were certainly more pressing issues, some of which were beyond the control of the organizers. The coronavirus pandemic has made planning ahead difficult. The prize money has been cut in half – from $14.5 million to $7.25 million – due to the greatly reduced arena capacity. Although Turin had envisioned a 75 percent limit, Italian authorities eventually settled on 60 percent, which quickly turned hundreds of fans away. Once inside, there were long queues and a lack of concessions (the sponsors seemed to be doing just fine).

However, the enthusiasm was real and audible despite the more than 7,600 fans in the stands. It was also true in the historic center of Turin, where shopkeepers put tennis rackets in their windows and display cases, 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 Finals to a world city where it will have the most sideshows, or to take it to a more modest place like Turin where it can dominate and possibly dominate?

Option No. 2 has its charm.

“The idea of ​​Turin was that the city would really embrace the event and we would have done more without Covid,” said Andrea Gaudenzi, head of the ATP Tour. “Overall, I think we need to improve a few things, especially in the fan experience outside of the arena when you come without a company ticket. But overall, I’m personally happy with the experience on the pitch.”

The potential downside is that you’re creating waves in a small pool instead of ripples in larger uncharted waters, which can help the game grow in the long run. Men’s tennis is definitely in a recession as the Big Three are nearing the end of their careers.

But after all the empty stadiums of the pandemic, the buzz is an even greater virtue, and Italy is chirpy and rightfully so when it comes to tennis. When Turin and the Italian Tennis Federation began lobbying for the ATP Finals in 2018, Sinner and Matteo Berrettini had yet to succeed (and Gaudenzi, a former Italian star, had yet to become president of the ATP).

It seems that this year’s Wimbledon finalist, 25-year-old Berrettini, qualified directly for Turin, and when he was forced to withdraw after a match due to an abdominal injury, Sinner was ready to step up as an alternative. The atmosphere he played was the best of the week.

“We would never have imagined that two Italian players would make it to the first ATP Finals in Turin,” said Angelo Binaghi, president of the Italian Tennis Federation.

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

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