The history of Italy’s International Championships (Internazionali d'Italia) started in 1930 but not in the present location of the Foro Italico Tennis courts. The first five editions were held in the Tennis Club Milano in Via Arimondi (Milan) thanks to the commitment and passion of Earl Alberto Bonacossa.
Only in 1935 was the tournament finally located in the now traditional site of the Foro Italico. Construction of the present site commenced in 1928 following the blueprint of the architect Del Debbio on a drained area near the banks of the river Tiber. Since 1935, this event has been held in different locations only three times; once in 1961 when both the Men’s and Women’s draws were played at the Turin Sporting Club in celebration of the Centenary of the Unification of Italy and later—the Women’s Tournament only—during the 1980s when it was first held in Perugia and then later in Taranto.
In total, the tournament has witnessed five Italian winners so far, and consequently five titles in the Men’s competition, with eight players participating in ten finals and three winners in the Women’s draw. The first editions of the Italian Men’s Tournament saw the repeated participation of the four stars of Italian tennis of those days: Valerio Uberto de Morpurgo, Emanuele Sertorio, Giovanni Palmieri and Giorgio de' Stefani. The first ever final was fought out between the Italian Valerio Uberto De Morpurgo and William “Bill” Tilden and ended in victory for the American player with a clean 61 61 62. Tilden arrived at the age of 37 in Milan with a long list of prestigious titles under his belt, including seven Davis Cup Trophies, seven victories at Forest Hills and 2 Wimbledon trophies.
The first Italian victory bears the hallmark of Emanuele Sertorio (1933) who defeated the Frenchman Legeay with the score 63 61 63 and the following year marked the first all-Italian final with Giovanni Palmieri against Giorgio de' Stefani. Palmieri won the 1935 edition of the tournament with a score of 63 60 75. Following a long break from 1936 to 1949 due to the Second World War, the tournament was handed over to a new generation of remarkable tennis players of the 1950s; Drobny (with a total of 3 titles), Sedgman and Patty. The only significant Italian presence in those years was Gianni Cucelli who was defeated by Drobny 61 108 60 in the 1951 finals. Italian tennis started to pick up strength and become better known internationally during the second half of that same decade thanks to talented players such as Gardini, Merlo and Pietrangeli. The former two players were the protagonists of the second all-Italian final in the history of the tournament: Gardini winning over Merlo who was forced to withdraw because of cramps.
The arrival of Nicola Pietrangeli into the Italian tennis scenario was confirmed in 1957 with a first final and victory against Merlo (86 62 64) in the third and last all-Italian final. Pietrangeli was a finalist once again in 1958, but beaten by Rose, but later went on to win the Turin event in 1961 defeating Laver (68 61 61 62). He played his last final in Rome in 1966 against Tony Roche. Ten years later, the Foro Italico once again spoke Italian with Adriano Panatta’s win against Vilas in 1976, (26 76 62 76). The following year, the Italian Zugarelli was beaten in the final by Gerulaitis and then Panatta again as finalist in 1978, losing to Borg after a very close match (16 63 61 46 63). This was the last appearance of an Italian finalist at the Foro Italico, which during the 80s and 90s became almost exclusive property of South America (seven trophies won by Vilas, Clerc, Gomez, Mancini, Rios and Kuerten), the United States (four trophies to Arias, Courier and Sampras), Austria (three trophies, all won by Muster) and by Spain (Sanchez and Corretja) and Sweden (Wilander and Norman), each with two trophies.
The 2001 final went to the Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, while in 2002 André Agassi finally conquered the only title missing from his well-stocked trophy cabinet. A surprise winner came in 2003 with the Spaniard Felix Mantilla, the first unseeded player to win the tournament since 1963. His triumph culminated with a splendid win in the final match against the Swiss Roger Federer and tournament favourite. In 2004 The trophy once again was conquered by Spain but another player: Carlos Moya who defeated the Argentinian Nalbandian in what was then called the Telecom Italian Masters Final.
In 2005 we had a memorable final, once again won by a Spanish player, Nadal who defeated the Argentinian Coria in five straight sets in an over 5-hour long match which was followed by 3.600.000 television spectators. Even more memorable was the 2006 final, which again saw Nadal winning with a tie-break in the fifth and final set against the world’s number 1 player Roger Federer, after eliminating two match points in favour of the Swiss player. These two finals are ranked number 1 and 2 in the list of longest final matches ever: 5 hours and 14 minutes in 2005, 5 hours and 6 minutes in 2006. Shorter but nonetheless as significant was Nadal’s third trophy in 2007 against Gonzalez from Chile.
In 2008 Novak Djokovic beated the Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka and became the first Serbian player to win in Rome. In 2009 and again in 2010, Nadal returned to dominate the courts and the Spanish left-hander succeeded in conquering his fifth title, a record for this Tournament. In the 2011 an unstoppable Novak Djokovic won his second Title beating in the final Rafael Nadal. In the 2012 came Nadal’s revenge. Rafa won his sixth Title beating Djokovic in a final postponed to Monday due the rain.
The first Italian success in the Women’s tournament belongs to Lucia Valerio. A finalist in the first ever tournament in 1930 when she was defeated by the Spaniard De Alvarez. Lucia conquered her first title in 1931 by beating the US player Andrus 26 62 60, and was again a finalist in three later editions (1932, 1934 and 1935).
After the Second World War, Italy soon had another homegrown title thanks to Annelies Bossi (over the German Curry, 64 64) which was then followed by a very long 35-year pause before another Italian female player managed to step onto the highest step of the podium, Raffaella Reggi, winner of the 1985 edition in Taranto.
On the Men’s side, the record belongs to Drobny, Mulligan and Muster with three trophies each and on the Women’s side, Chris Evert is the undisputed champion with five titles, followed by Gabriela Sabatini and Conchita Martinez with 4 each. In 2002 Serena Williams won the tournament against the Belgian Henin, while another player from Belgium, Kim Clijsters, was crowned in 2003 following a passionate match against the French player Amelie Mauresmo. After losing three finals (2000, 2001 and 2003), the French champion conquered both the 2004 edition, defeating the American Jennifer Capriati in the Final and the 2005 edition when she won against the Swiss player Schnyder. 2006 saw the comeback of Martina Hingis - a winner in 1998 - while in 2007 the Serb Jelena Jankovic won her first Italian trophy. In 2008 Jelena Jankovic won her second straight title against the young French player Alizé Cornet. In 2009 Dinara Safina won her first title in Rome - one of the most important success in her career - beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in an all “Russian” final. 2010 saw the arrival of a Spanish newcomer, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez who won the title against Jelena Jankovic but that same year there was also an Italian “touch” for the Foro Italico crowd when Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko won the Women’s Double Title.
In the last two years the only queen of Foro italico was Maria Sharapova. The beautiful Russian beat in 2011 the Australian Samantha Stosur and in the 2012 the Chinese Na Li. The 2012 edition was also Italian with Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci terrific winners of Women’s Double Title.