© Alexandra Willis


Five things about the Italian Open


Rome has taken centre stage this week for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the last big tournament before Roland Garros. 

It’s red
Stating the obvious, perhaps, but after the Madrid blues, players, press and fans were very happy to turn their socks and shoes orange again on Rome’s red clay. The rather blustery conditions have meant that the clay has travelled rather further than just socks and shoes, even into a few eyes, but, when coupled with sunshine, statues, and the sandy-coloured stone seats, Rome comes across as a very happy place. And that’s if you’ve got it on mute. If you add in all the ‘ciao’s’,  it’s got a friendly energy that is contagious.

The best court in tennis?
With its large, very clean-looking Centre Court, which must be fairly new, it is up to Rome’s No.3 court, Nicola Pietrangeli, to be the fan-friendly court with character.  Sunken into the ground in suitably amphitheatre-esque fashion, surrounded by statues of gods in varying degrees of undress, it is the perfect place to cram in an exuberant crowd. When the Italians are playing, it’s bedlam.

The Italians take centre stage
As is fitting, the Italian Open is all about Italians. With four of six of the players at the official draw ceremony hailing from the host nation  – Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi, and three roomfuls of the youth-hostel-turned-press-centre full of Italian journalists, it’s very pleasing to see a city so excited about hosting a tournament. When an Italian is practising, you’d think they were a world No.1, given by the 10-deep crowds. It’s boosted the players, too. Seppi upset John Isner, and Pennetta set up a date with Serena Williams.

The Foro Italico is a very spacious, well-laid out site. The courts have enough space between them for fans to both sit and watch and also saunter past. And, because they realise there’s a fair distance from A to B, there is a train, the Foro Italico Express, to transport you back and forth, while the stewards ride around on bicycles.

But the one group of people who really need some transport are the press, housed in what is usually a youth hostel over by one of the entrances, a good 10 minutes walk to the Centre Court.

Don’t expect to find Italian gelato
In what is surely a crime against cuisine, the only ice cream available to purchase on site in Rome is either made by Walls, or Ben and Jerry’s. I mean, really.

But that’s ok. There’s plenty of gelato to be found elsewhere. Along with historical artefacts and very, very good pasta. What a city.