Italian tennis is booming, and the timing couldn’t be better.
For the first time in history there are 10 Italian men in the top 100 in the world, while 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti became the youngest player in the top 100 after his remarkable run to the Mexican Open semi-finals as a qualifier.
Then there’s Jannik Sinner, only the sixth teenager since 2010 to break into the top 30 and one of the brightest young prospects around. Add to that established top-20 duo Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini, as well as Lorenzo Sonego, who won the singles and doubles titles at the Sardegna Open last week.
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The explosion of talent and success comes in the same year that the ATP Finals move to Italy for the first time later this year.
"There’s a big hype,” says Eurosport Italy’s Marco Castro. "And having one or two players at the ATP Finals must be the main goal of the season."
After the first quarter of the year that doesn’t seem a stretch. Italy reached the final at the ATP Cup while Berrettini is ranked 10th in the world and Sinner will move higher than 22 if he can continue to show the form he did at the Miami Open, where he reached the final.
What stands out about the current crop of Italian players is their age. Only two are over 30 – Fognini, 33, and Andreas Seppi, 37 – while there are two teenagers – Sinner and Musetti – and Berettini and Sonego are both not yet 26.
"Sinner and Musetti are definitely the players with the biggest futures,” says Castro.
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"Sinner improves week by week, tournament by tournament. Musetti is one year younger and he’s trying to follow the incredible path Sinner has been on in the last two years.
Personally, I would be surprised if Sinner didn’t win a Grand Slam in the future. This doesn’t mean he has to win a Grand Slam this season or in 2022. Concerning Musetti, some say he’s potentially better than Sinner, but we’ll see his growth in 2021.
Italian tennis has never seen this strength in depth before. Adriano Panatta is the only Italian male to ever win a Grand Slam title – the French Open in 1976 – and the highest he reached in the rankings was world No 4.
Fognini has produced some good results, as have Marco Cecchinato and Berrettini, but all three have made one strong run each at a Grand Slam so far. There has been more success on the women’s side with Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone both winning Grand Slams over the last 11 years, but now the only two women in the top 100 are ranked 80 and 99.
"It's beautiful, there are so many of us," said Sonego at the Sardegna Open. "We support each other and it's no coincidence that if someone has good results, then others follow too.
"The Italian movement is continuing to rise and I'm sure other young players will also come from behind."
The question will be how far can this new generation go.
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Sinner has described Musetti as a “big, big talent” and both are part of the younger generation coming up behind top-10 quartet Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev.
Musetti showed his class in his impressive run in Acapulco, where he beat Diego Schwartzman, Frances Tiafoe and Grigor Dimitrov before losing to Tsitsipas in the semis. He then beat top seed Dan Evans in Cagliari and has a wild card for the Monte-Carlo Masters this week.
Sinner has enjoyed a very positive start to the year and earned plenty of praise on his way to the final of the Miami Open. Alexander Bubilk said Sinner was “not human” after losing to him in the quarter-finals, while beaten semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut said Sinner has “something special in tough moments”.
“He has a great future coming up. He has everything. He has a big serve, he's tall, he's big, he moves well, he has very good groundstrokes, mentally he's also great and improving.”
In February, Sinner became the youngest player since Novak Djokovic in 2006 to win two ATP titles after winning the Great Ocean Road Open. He also reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros last year and Djokovic has talked up his talents ahead of Monte Carlo.
"He’s got all the goods that he needs in order to become a champion," said the world No 1.
The signs are that this could be a very exciting few years for Italian tennis.
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