By Christopher Clarey
There is a large world map within the atrium of the five-star lodge in Turin the place the main gamers stayed throughout the ATP Finals that ended Sunday.
It was not the best metaphor. Though males’s tennis is undoubtedly international, with tournaments on six continents (no Antarctica for now), it’s not in the intervening time an intercontinental sport on the prime.
As the 2021 tour season ends, the highest 10 in singles is solely European: from 34-year-old Novak Djokovic of Serbia at No. 1 to 20-year-old Jannik Sinner of Italy at No. 10.
Though there have been some males’s tour executives who believed that it might have been a wiser development technique and safer monetary determination to take the ATP Finals elsewhere — see Tokyo or Singapore — it’s definitely in tune with the instances that the tour’s year-end championship remained in Europe.
The shock was that it got here to Turin. The ATP Finals have been in London on the O2 Arena from 2009 to 2020, serving as an annual second serving to of big-time tennis for a significant metropolis and main media hub that already had Wimbledon.
But Turin, the brand new host for a five-year run, is a really totally different and extra dangerous play. Though Turin is the capital of Italy’s Piedmont area, it is just the nation’s fourth most populous metropolis behind Rome, Milan and Naples. It has a tennis tradition — golf equipment and courts are frequent — however doesn’t have an everyday males’s or ladies’s tour occasion and has by no means produced a significant tennis star, though Lorenzo Sonego, 26, a Turin native at present ranked twenty seventh, is coaching and taking part in onerous to vary that (he has victories over Djokovic and 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem).
Fiat, the carmaker that when dominated the town, has moved on, leaving an financial void. Turin has its strengths: superb wine and meals, an Egyptian museum, a sublime metropolis middle and the soccer membership Juventus. But what gave it the sting for indoor tennis was the Pala Alpitour, the most important, newest indoor area in Italy. It was constructed to host ice hockey on the Winter Olympics in 2006, and Turin’s leaders have been desirous to rekindle the Olympic spirit and lift the town’s worldwide profile with one other vital sports activities occasion.
That could also be more difficult than they assume. The ATP Finals is arguably essentially the most prestigious annual males’s tennis occasion outdoors the 4 Grand Slam tournaments. Only the highest eight males qualify in singles, and it’s a aim and speaking level all through the season in addition to one of many largest paydays and rating boosts out there. An undefeated champion will get 1,500 rating factors: greater than any event outdoors the Grand Slam occasions, whose champions get 2,000.
But the ATP Finals are nonetheless nowhere close to as massive a fishbowl. Winning is essential for a champion’s legacy however not important. Rafael Nadal has by no means managed it, but nobody is about to take him off the quick listing of the sport’s biggest gamers.
Three of the previous 5 ATP Finals champions — Grigor Dimitrov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, who gained in 2018 and once more Sunday — have but to win a Grand Slam title.
But with Nadal, Thiem and Roger Federer out of motion for prolonged intervals as they get better from vital accidents, Turin acquired one of the best of what was out there. No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 3 Zverev all reached the semifinals after coming via their round-robin teams, and all expressed satisfaction with their new playground even when Medvedev did grumpily and briefly examine it to a minor-league “challenger” occasion throughout his opening match when he had bother getting the balls delivered to him on the tempo he prefers earlier than serving.
There have been definitely extra vital points, some past organizers’ management. The coronavirus pandemic made advance planning a problem. Prize cash was minimize in half — from $14.5 million to $7.25 million — largely due to the diminished area capability. Though Turin had been projecting a 75% restrict, the Italian authorities finally settled on 60%, which turned away tons of of followers on quick discover. Once inside, there have been lengthy traces and a scarcity of concessions (the sponsors gave the impression to be doing simply superb).
But the keenness was actual and audible, even with simply over 7,600 followers within the stands. It was actual in Turin’s historic middle as properly, the place shopkeepers put tennis rackets of their showcases and home windows and the town turned Piazza San Carlo right into a tennis village with massive video screens and a small-scale courtroom.
Is it higher to take an occasion just like the ATP Finals to a world metropolis the place will probably be at most a sideshow or to carry it to a extra modest place like Turin the place it may possibly and certain will dominate?
Option No. 2 has its charms.
“The Turin idea was that the city would really embrace the event, and we would have done even more if there had not been COVID,” stated Andrea Gaudenzi, chairman of the ATP Tour. “Overall, I think we have to improve a few things, especially in the fan experience outside the arena when you come without the corporate ticket. But overall, I’m personally pleased with the on-court experience.”
The potential draw back is that you simply create waves in a small pond as an alternative of ripples in vaster uncharted waters that may assist develop the sport long run. With the Big Three nearing the tip of their careers, males’s tennis is unquestionably in for a lull.
But after all of the empty stadiums of the pandemic, buzz is a good bigger advantage, and Italy is abuzz over tennis and rightly so. When Turin and the Italian Tennis Federation started lobbying for the ATP Finals in 2018, Sinner and Matteo Berrettini had not but damaged via (and Gaudenzi, a former Italian star, had not but change into chairman of the ATP).
As it turned out, Berrettini, 25, a Wimbledon finalist this yr, certified instantly for Turin and when he needed to withdraw after one match with an belly damage, Sinner was able to step in because the alternate. The environment when he performed was one of the best of the week.
“We never could have imagined that two Italian players would take part in the first ATP Finals in Turin,” stated Angelo Binaghi, president of the Italian Tennis Federation.
That is kind of a bonus, and in gentle of Sinner’s and Berrettini’s youth and expertise, it might not be a one-time bonus.
This article initially appeared in The New York Times.
By Christopher Clarey