It’s the week before the French Open, one of my favorite times of year!
Before the French Open, though, the Italian Open will be contested. It is now known officially as The Internazionali BNL d’Italia, but for most tennis fans and players, it’s still the Italian Open.
For most of its existence, the tournament was usually regarded as the fifth major for men and women even though technically there are only four Grand Slam events. In the ’80s, with tennis taking off in popularity in the United States thanks to an overabundance of talent in America with players like Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, and so many more, a few tournaments with significant prize money and venues were created and marketed as “majors.” Briefly during the decade, the Italian Open was contested by the women away from where it has been held for years, the Foro Italico in Rome.
But tradition often wins out in tennis. Take, for example, World Team Tennis: a great concept that has brought the sport to millions more fans, but the prestige for most players and fans still rests with long-established tournaments like Wimbledon, the U.S., Australian, and French Opens.
The roster of Italian Open champions is as impressive as it for the official majors, and the best clay court players of all time have held the trophy high in Rome: Björn Borg, Rafael Nadal, Margaret Court, Chris Evert.
As an aficionado of tennis history, I understand the Italian Open is technically a lead-up to the French Open, but I still wish it had special status and that the two tournaments were placed a little further apart on the professional tour. Mixed doubles used to be played in Rome. Perhaps that often overlooked competition could be brought back.
But for those of us who love the sport, let’s not overthink Rome, and just relax, eat lots of pasta this week, have a good Italian wine, and savor great tennis!