Rome is the setting for the third and final clay court Masters event of the year.
A fan favourite for over 80 years, the Italian Open is one of the most prestigious tournaments on both the ATP and WTA tours, and traditionally gives a strong indication of which players are likely to perform well at the upcoming French Open.
The first Internazionale d’Italia was held in 1930 at the Tennis Club Milano in the country’s second largest city. Five years later, it relocated to the Foro Italico in the Italian capital, where it has remained ever since. Due to the Second World War, the event wasn’t played from 1936 to 1949.
A mixed competition from the very beginning, the tournament welcomed many of tennis’ amateur era greats. American legend Bill Tilden won the inaugural men’s event, and Australians Rod Laver and Tony Roche lifted the trophy in the 1960s. On the women’s side, Doris Hart and Althea Gibson were notable winners in the 1950s, while Margaret Court and Maria Bueno each won a hat-trick of titles a decade later.
The Italian Open embraced professional players for the first time in 1969. Until Thomas Muster won a third title in 1996, no man had ever triumphed more than twice in Rome. Among the many two-time champions are Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Vitas Gerulaitis and Ivan Lendl.
Since 2005, however, the event has been dominated by one man: Rafael Nadal. The King of Clay edged Guillermo Coria to win his first Italian Open, and has beaten the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer on his way to five further titles.
Chris Evert leads the roll of honour of women’s champions, having won five titles from 1974-1982. She is ahead of Gabriela Sabatini, winner of four titles, and Conchita Martinez, who triumphed four years running from 1993-1996.
Nadal def. Federer, 2006 final:
The most legendary Italian Open match of recent times is also one of the greatest ever contests in the Federer-Nadal rivalry. Federer, who had lost to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final just a few weeks earlier, was determined to get his first ever clay court win over the Spaniard, and dominated the first set tie-break without losing a single point. Nadal fought back to take the second, also on a tie-break, and held on to a service break to win the third set. But just when it looked as though he would charge through the fourth, Federer stepped up a gear, hitting with greater aggression and keeping his opponent under constant pressure. He pushed the match to a fifth and deciding set, and when he led 4-2, 40-30, a breakthrough victory was in his sights. Yet Nadal continued to fight, and after fending off two match points in lengthy, gruelling rallies, he took the final set tie-break to end the five hour slugfest and remain undefeated against Federer on clay.
Video: Nadal v Federer, 2006
Sharapova def. Li, 2012:
Maria Sharapova had won the Italian Open convincingly in 2011, but her prospects of a title defence looked slim when she fell behind 6-4, 4-0 to French Open champion Li Na. With conditions heavy due to persistent rain, the Russian failed to produce her best tennis during the open set and a half, and Li capitalised. But Sharapova is a renowned competitor, and summoned all her fighting spirit to win six games on the trot and even the contest at one set all. With more rain falling, the Chinese player earned a match point at 6-5 in the decider, only for Sharapova to deny her with a courageous crosscourt forehand. In spite of a two-hour rain delay before the conclusive tie-break, Sharapova maintained her momentum and completed one of the most remarkable comebacks of her career. Three weeks later, she won the French Open to complete a rare career Grand Slam.
Video: Sharapova v Li, 2012
- The last Italian man to win in Rome was Adriano Panatta in 1976; the most recent home-grown winner of the women’s title was Raffaella Reggi in 1985.
- The men’s final wasn’t played in 1998, as Albert Costa had to abandon his match against Marcelo Rios because of injury.
- Pete Sampras won the biggest clay court title of his career when he thrashed Boris Becker in the 1994 Rome final.
- Since 2007, the men’s final has been a best-of-three sets match.
- The Italian Open was one of the few top-level tournaments Martina Navratilova never won.