10 takeaways from IBI23

The 80th edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the first with an upgrated format in 2 weeks and a 96-players draw, ended with two new winners and plenty memorable moments.

Elena Rybakina and Daniil Medvedev were both first-time winners at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia as well as the maiden winner of the upgraded edition of the tournament now played over 2 weeks with a 96-players draw.

I loro nomi saranno scolpiti nell’albo d’oro. Non potremo dimenticarci anche della pioggia che ha accompagnato il torneo, giorno per giorno, inedita anche lei in questa misura. Ma le due settimane di grande tennis al Foro Italico del 2023 si faranno ricordare anche per tanti altri momenti e personaggi unici. Ne abbiamo scelti dieci.

Il Campo Centrale al Foro Italico durante la semifinale tra Rune e Ruud – Foto Alex Pantling/Getty Images

1)Taylor Townsend upsets Jessica Pegula

27-year-old Taylor Townsend lived at least three lives and a double career. She was considered a future star at first, but then she was stripped of fundings by the USTA because of her excessive body weight. Townsend returned to the tour this year after a year-long maternity break. In Rome, her career took a new path. Following her win against Ysaline Bonaventure, she upset Jessica Pegula with the score of 62 36 63: her first ever Top 3 victory.

“Last time I played against her it was in 25k tournament in South Carolina. We also played doubles together, I really liked her. She was the nicest rich person I’ve ever met” she said. They built a great friendship and indeed Pegula invited Townsend to her wedding. But on court, friendship is put aside, until the handshake. Townsend only had another Top 5 victory in her career, at US Open 2019. It was a comeback victory against Simona Halep, WTA number 4 at the time, and it was worth congratulations from Ellen DeGeneres, actor Samuel L. Jackson and NBA star Kobe Bryant. This victory, somehow, was even more special.

Taylor Townsend -Foto Alex Pantling/Getty Images

2) Fabian Marozsan takes down Alcaraz

The Shocker of the tournament happened at 3.15pm on Monday 15th May. That was when Carlos Alcaraz ( ATP n°2) and second seed lost by 63 76(4) by the hands of Hungarian qualifer and world number 135 Fabian Marozsan , who was playing his first ever ATP maindraw match and who was the lowest ranked player left in the tournament. After the match-point, the Hungarian dropped the racket and by looking at his box, he tapped his hand to the chest.

“I mean, it’s not easy to say something. I’m really happy with this one. I beat him in two sets. I played one of my best games so far”, commented the 23 year old who admitted to have gone on court hoping to win a handful games: “I just stay focused and try to come back from the tiebreak. It was 1-4. I just won a great point. Then I don’t know what happened in the next point. I just tried to hit back the balls on the court.”.

And his was was a flawless performance, with great baseline hitting, powerful accelerations and deadly dropshots. A performance so good to take out the man who was sure of being world number one on the next Monday. The oldest fansmight probably remember and see the similarities with Miloslav Mecir, aka “The Big Cat”, Olympic champion in Seoul in 1988. But this is a different story.

Fabian Marozsan – Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

3) How Rune defeated Djokovic

To beat Novak Djokovic is by itself a feat that not many have the privilege to be able to tell. But the way Holger Rune did it in the quarterfinals of the IBI23 was possibly unseen before. We remember the baseline pressure put by Rafael Nadal’s heavy top spin forehand; the variety and tactical genius of Roger Federer, the incredible defensive skills of Andy Murray. At last it was the error-less game of Daniil Medvedev with unreturnable services, both with first and second serve, as seen at US Open 2021. But we had never seen anyone so good at slowing down the pace, forcing the world number one to lose his rhythm, to a point of making his otherwise solid game an erratic one.

Such difficult tactic requires incredible touch, sensible hands and an extraordinary speed (because when Djokovic goes for a winner you have to reach the ball to make the rally start again!). He did everything possible and beyond to dismantle Djokovic’s game. And eventually he looked toasted. He took time. Djokovic tried to play with his younger opponent’s lack of patience. Ha cercato di provocarlo in modo che ricominciasse a tirare forte come fa abitualmente. He almost managed to succeed. But then rain returned and forced a break. When game resumed, Rune was his calmer self again. And Djokovic fell in the trap that the Dane built once more. A masterpiece.

Djokovic e Rune – Foto Giampiero Sposito

4) Hanfmann’s coach throws himself off the diving platform

31-year-old German Yannick Hanfmann was world number 101 when he qualified for the main draw of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He went pretty much unnoticed until he defeated in straigh sets (6-4 6-1) US Taylor Fritz, n.9 in the world. Even if he was coming from a good run in Madrid, where he also qualified and defeated Lorenzo Musetti. The quality of the guy from Karlsruhe, who is Southern California University graduate, was perceived by the fans of the Internazionali when he defeated Marco Cecchinato (at his best appearance in Rome) and Andrey Rublev. So his coach, Argentine Juan Pablo Brzezicki, had to stay true to his promise: he was to jump off the 10 metres diving platform of the Foro Italico swimming complex, if his pupil had defeated the Russian. He did it.

Yannick Hanfmann (foto Fioriti)
Yannich Hanfmann – Foto Adelchi FIoriti/FITP

5) Mouth-watering first round: Fognini-Murray

Fabio Fognini against Andy Murray was expected to be the most prestigious first round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2023 and it lived up the expectations. Both players wrote great pages in the history of tennis in their countries: Fognini was the first male Italian player to return to the top 10 in the rankings after more than 40 years – the times of Panatta and Barazzutti. The latter, former world number one, 3-times slam champion and king in Rome in 2016, was capable of winning Wimbledon in 2013, becoming the first Brit to do it since Fred Perry in 1936, ending a 76 years drought.

The fact that they were born only 9 days apart made it possible for their carreers to cross paths numerous times, adding up to the great atmosphere on the Campo Centrale when they played at 7pm that night. Before their match, the head-to-head was tied with 4 wins apiece.

Andy Murray was comnig from the victory in the Super Challenger of Aix-en-Provence. Despite the 42nd position in the rankings, Murray has proven over and over that he is still capable of great physical battles and big successes, even in the past 12 months.

Fognini has also fallen down in the rankings, sitting at n.130 due to continuous physical problems.But in spite of the mare two victories on the tour in 2023, the Italian wanted to show he is not ready to give up yet. The old magic was back for him: after a perfect first set, in the second he looked toasted, but the third was to be a masterpiece that set the stadium on fire. Dropshots, winners, defences… Fognini showed the best of his repertoir and gave him a victory that he celebrated hugging his son Federico, with Grand Slam champion Flavia Pennetta, his wife, smiling from the box.

Fabio Fognini – Foto Giampiero Sposito

6) Napolitano qualifies for the main draw

Six years since the last time, Stefano Napolitano, ATP number 555, returned to the main draw of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. His journey had started long before, in February, at the Open BNL of Trento, where he won a “ticket” for the pre-qualies and once there he gained one of the two qualifications’ wild cards.

There he took down Aleksandar Kovacevic, world n.113, and Germany’s Maximilian Marterer, 46 75 75.

Napolitano qualified for the maindraw for the first time since 2017, when he lost to Viktor Troicki. The incredible journey of Napolitano is the perfect example of how dreams can become true for all the 19.218 who try their best in the 4-phases the preceed the Masters 1000 at the Foro Italico. Despite his loss to Alex Molcan at the end of gruelling battle (6-4 3-6 7-6), Napolitano’s run remained a highlight of this year’s edition.

Stefano Napolitano – Foto Sposito

7) Tsitsipas – Musetti by midnight

It was a surreal atmosphere the one that surrouanded Stefanos Tsitsipas and Lorenzo Musetti when their beautiful match ended at midnight after 7-5 7-5 battle.

No less than 6.000 spectators stayed for the big match between the world number 5 and Italy’s number 2. The match was scheduled not before 8.30pm, but they came on court 5 minutes before midnight. This was due to another sturnning battle, the quarterfinal match between Kalinina and Haddad-Maia, which ended just short of 4 hours in the longest match in the WTA season so far. The air was electric despite the cold night and rainy day. Musetti, who had just come out from an afternoon victorious match against Tiafoe, was the last Italian standing and the crowd did not want to lose him too.

He started in the best possible way: a stunning backahnd down the line to pass the Greek. But Tsitsipas did not let this off-set him. He kept attacking. He held his serve and was not to let his oppoenent break in the match. In the next game, he hammered a return on the baseline. The next one is a winner too. The crowd was there to support the Italian and did it even more in the difficult moments. “Lore, Lorenzo, Lollo, Piccolo”: all possible nicknames were shouted in support of Musetti.

But Tsitsipas was transforming the engery to his adantage too. He was inspired and kept playing his aggressive game more than well. Every ball had the sound of a clean winner. At 1.45am the 6.000 spectators were joined by the seagulls flying across the stadium lights.

Lorenzo Musetti – Foto Giampiero Sposito

8) Rybakina – Swiatek like an anticipated final

It was not hard to tell that the match between Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina was probably the anticipated final of the tournament. And it was a marvellous match, with the world number one playing superb tennis all the way to a 6-2 4-2 lead and a chance to go up 5-2. But she did not manage to convert it and her rival suddenly felt the confidence returning, starting from her serve. The second set was to be decided by a tie-break. The Kazakh was more aggressive there and won 4 consecutive points from 3-3 to take the set. In the attempt to defend one of the strong accelerations of the world number 6, Swiatek’s sliding halted unexpectedly, causing a wince of pain on her face.

She called for a Medical Time Out. She returned on court with a bandage on her left thigh. She held her service games, but she did not look comfortable moving. Rybakina also held easily, also because the Pole was not trying to go for shots that required too many steps. When the score was 2-2 in the decider, the match was over.

A painful ending for a match that had big expectations and was delieving quality tennis.

Iga Swiatek – Foto Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

9) Sinner against Shevchenko, the unexpected challenger

On the third round, Italian fans on Campo Centrale are there to support Jannik Sinner, but they discover 22-year-old Alexander Shevchenko. Number 93 of the world, he had entered the main draw with a little help from luck. After losing in the last round of the qualifications to Fils, he took the place of Griekspoor, as a lucky loser. He took advantage of this chance by serving a 6-3 6-4 to Sebastian Baez, world number 40.

Followers of the Challenger tour knew him, of course, as he started 2022 as world number 328 and was already up to n.154 came this January. By winning the titles in Tenerife and Madrid and with another final in Phoenix her broke into the top 100. At the Masters 1000 in Madrid, he reached the third round from qualies, defeating J.J. Wolf and Jiri Lehecka. He only surrendered 7-5 in the decider against Daniil Medvedev.

He is coached by Austrian Gunther Bresnik, and if someone who contributed so much in the careers of Boris Becker and Dominic Thiem takes a job, he is sure of the potential of the player.

Those who watched him that night against Sinner are impressed by the power of his groundstrokes and the cleaness of all fundamentals. But also by his personality. He played at the same level of Sinner, sometimes even hitting stronger than the Italian. But when Sinner finally found his top geat, the other had a small drop. But we will hear his name soon again.

By watching the match again, it is easy to see how Sinner was not in his best shape two days later when he lost to Argentine Francisco Cerundolo. Against Shevchenko, he ran and fought even while in difficult moments; against the Argentine, he was slow, always late and his vision of the game was unclear. His coach Vagnozzi was hit by a virus just days before. Maybe one can see a connection…

Jannik Sinner – Foto Giampiero Sposito

10) Kalinina – Haddad Maia, the longest match of the season

The quarterfinal match between Anhelina Kalinina and Beatriz Haddad Maia, was a record length victory for the former. The 6-7 7-6 6-3 match lasted 3.41 hours. It was the longest WTA match in 2023, and the longest in a WTA 1000 in the last 3 years. It was rollercoaster, with Kalinina starting strong, but the Brazilian coming back and closing at the tie-break. The second was also decided by a tiebreak, but it was the player from Nova Kakhovka coming on top, by the slimmest of margins 8-6. The third set was to be the mirrored version of the first, with Haddad-Maia starting strong with a 3-0 lead. Game over? No way! Kalinina won the next 6 games to claim a spectacular victory when the clock is 20 shorts of the 4 hours played. The Ukrainian went on to prove what she is capable of and she went on to reach the first Masters 1000 final of her career.

Anhelina Kalinina – Alex Pantling/Getty Images

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