Adriano Panatta, an all-Italian legend

Between circles and people, between network and line.

“How much more could you have won if you’d trained more consistently and lived the life of an athlete?” he asked him once Daniele Garbo, in Reggio Emilia, in front of an excellent plate of Amatriciana. Panatta’s response was very natural: “If I had done what you say I wouldn’t have been Adriano Panatta, but a different player. I prefer it that way and you?».

One of the strongest and most important Italian tennis players in history was born 73 years ago in his native Rome. Adriano Panatta was a popular mytha style icon that trait d’union between bourgeois circles and popular tennis. As Panatta played, the Foro Italico changed and the atmosphere resembled that of the Olimpico so much that it overshadowed it. A moody and humorous tennis player, his always even matches ignited the already fervent souls of ’70s Italians.

Beautiful and damned, ironic, unpredictable, proud, overbearing. Panatta combined Sordi’s Roman cynicism, Mastroianni’s charm and Gassman’s theatrical elegance into one Italian comedy A decade between friends, enemies, loved ones, sporting tragedies and protests in Italy’s leading years.


A few kilometers from the Foro Italico, between the dust and the tennis players of Rome, Adriano Panatta takes his first steps on red sand. Little boy He is in fact the son of Ascenzio, manager of the Plarioli Tennis Club. From the age of 14 he then switched to the tennis and life school Mario Belardinelli in the federal center of Formia, the forge of the generation of great Italian tennis players of the 1970s, until the revelation: in 1970, twenty-year-old Panatta surprisingly became Italian champion by beating Nicola Pietrangeli on the boulevard at sunset. It is time for overtake: the new that surpasses the old, the handover between our two greatest.

“It’s not like I realized tennis was elite. I lived therein tennis».

There were ups and downs from there, culminating in 1976. In fact, Panatta managed to triumph on home soil a few days earlier Foro Italico, until then rather indigestible for him; and then at Roland Garros, Werden the second and so far Last Italian to win a Grand Slam. A triumph crowned by victory in the quarter-finals bjorn borgundisputed ruler in Paris and victim of only two defeats in his career on French soil, both at the hands of Panatta.

However, the entry in history comes on December 19, 1976. In the surreal setting of Pinochet’s coup, Adriano Panatta, Corrado Barazzutti, Paolo Bertolucci and Antonio Zugarelli conquer Chile the first and only blue Davis Cup. A matured Davis between the disputes in a highly politicized Italy, where a large part of public opinion is against Brexit. A Davis also came thanks to a long struggle from Nicola Pietrangeli, the non-playing captain who morphed into a real politician in the months leading up to the final, spurring crowds in TV lounges to praise the exit.

The realization of a journey that the four started at a young age in the fields of Formia and continued in the professional field. A divided group, Panatta and Bertolucci on one side and Barazzutti and Zugarelli on the other. Just like the Lazio of Chinaglia and King Cecconi, who had won the Scudetto two years earlier. Two different groups in the way of understanding tennis and lifebut more united than ever in the game’s cathartic moment.


What is that the genius: it’s imagination, intuition, sight and speed of execution.

From the movie “My Friends”

Alone a Grand Slam, a 1000, a Davis and a few smaller tournaments. Overall, Adriano Panatta has won little. Because he’s capable of winning against world no. 1, succeeding him twice against Connors or losing easily to vastly inferior opponents. Lew Hoad tells him one day at Wimbledon: “You’re an idiot because you could win this tournament whenever you want, but you don’t win it.” Think about it». The matches are always tied until the end, he is the tennis player who saved the most match points, namely eleven, in a won match in the Open era. The confident character then makes him vulnerable to his pride and the conditioning of the environment.

In Barcelona, ​​he intentionally loses a Davis Cup game by throwing all the balls wide due to insults from the stands, only to engage in a fistfight in the stands at the end of the game. Before the Roland Garros final, he tells him how he looks in the mirror at his opponent Solomon, small and rather ugly: «Come on… look carefully! How can you believe that you can beat me today?». Or in doubles against England, do you opt to get one of the Lloyd brothers to ‘lower the crest’ by playing for his strongest stroke, the forehand? English victory. (Also) That was panatta.

“I was unbearable.

But an athlete’s greatness isn’t just measured by winning, it’s also measured by their ability to inspire. Panattas tennis personified All the best for yesterday’s tennis, before the advent of base bombers. He lived a life at the net, in attack, between volleys and velvety touches. A tennis player with a unique sensitivity, he treated the ball with caresses. Panatta then found his strength in the ability to break free from his opponents’ tactical network with a sudden stroke of genius.

“Borg didn’t like playing against me because I didn’t give it a rhythm. I varied a lot and I kept going. Every point was different for me and I made him suffer with my drop shots.”

When the point seemed lost, Adriano became an acrobat, conjuring leaps, spins and impossible trajectories out of a hat in a game more akin to a dance. The extreme synthesis of his tennis was that “Veronica”Panatta trademark, the famous high backhand volleyball turn.

“I certainly didn’t do that life ruinedwin».

But not only the sports newspapers, Panatta also filled the secular news in the 70s. Handsome and charismatic, but woe to tell him today: “I was expensive like so many others” he replies. Mixture of Cinecittà star and boss of the Magliana gang, it was easy to find Adriano Panatta in the middle of the night in the clubs of Via Veneto, accompanied by actors and showgirls. Panatta fascinated the Italians both as a character and as an athlete, the first case in Italy for a non-footballer.

The Panactic Myth, with the boys who wanted to be like him and imitated his forelock, and with the girls with him. The clean face, the sharp tongue, the genuine bravery and the never-hidden passion for cigarettes, which he also expressed in an unlikely marriage between smoking and sport.

When we talk about Adriano Panatta, we can’t help but talk about his relationship with his peers. Starting from the fraternal friendship with Paul Bertolucci, partner of doubles and thousand raids. A couple of natural comedy and tennis that reveal a true and deep friendship. A career that also consists of conflicting relationships, from which with Nicholas Pietrangeliwith contrasts that exist to this day Konrad Barazzutti, in a clash that split Italy in tennis. Finally, the dualism with Borg, so similar to him off the pitch and so opposite to him inside the rectangle.

The congratulations by Adriano Panatta to Paolo Bertolucci, August 3, 2022.

Today, Adriano Panatta’s career goes further than commentatorand stays behind the microphone the same spirit what has always distinguished him. He alternates technical subtleties with brilliant jokes, high and low, bringing to life informative and entertaining commentary. With his scathing irony, he carefully pierces the flaws of modern tennis, from monotonous players to lack of elegance. “I remember making a comment in the final in Paris when Wawrinka won and saying he was dressed like a German tourist from Dresden in Milano Marittima. They were mad but it was the truth».

«Tennis invented it the devil. Caution: It is a sport for neurotics».

Eternally disillusioned, Panatta has also left the Rome he defines “A beautiful lady who should go to the hairdresser a little more often and dress a little better». The idea of ​​becoming a walking museum of what is left of a great tennis player repels him. Escape the pastShe lives the present with the lightness that characterizes her. regret? To those who ask him if he’s sorry for “just” stopping at #1. 4 of the world answers: “I don’t want to sound cynical, but no, I don’t care.” The trophies? All away:

«I have nothing left. Rome? Lost. Paris? Lost. Davis? Well, I saw that Bertolucci has it at home, me? I don’t know…».

He lives in oblivion, inAir, thanks to what, according to Zarathustra, was one of the noblest virtues of man: to forget without ever taking oneself too seriously. This is and was Panatta, imperfect and brilliant, disillusioned and excited about life; between high and low, between circles and the people, between the network and the line. A tennis player who has definitely changed the perception of his sport in our country thanks to his success contradictions. why, without this, it wouldn’t have been Adriano Panatta.

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