Giulio Zeppieri, Luca Nardi and Stefano Napolitano fought hard but lost in three sets in the first round.
On a sunny day packed with spectators at the Foro Italico of Rome, lots of fans attended the first-round matches of home players who tried to use the advantage of the loud crowd in their favour. As the sun began its descent, this situation did not help the least experienced Italians, as both Luca Nardi and Giulio Zeppieri fell in three sets, while Marco Cecchinato took down Mackenzie McDonald in two.
Zeppieri took on German qualifier Daniel Altmaier in the most iconic court of the venue, the Nicola Pietrangeli, which soon turned into a loud roaring arena. Altmaier felt the crowd too and in both first and second set started off better, only to see the Italian coming closer. After an early break, Zeppieri closed the gap in the first set and even got as close as two points from taking it on 6-5. The German held serve and then cruised through the tiebreak, bringing the momentum to the second set, that started again with a break in his favour.
The Italian fought back and turned things around as the crowd went ballistic for what looked like a possible feat. With one set each, the decider started once more with the German catching the early break, but this time the reaction from Zeppieri did not come as promptly. Altmaier did not drop his intensity and eventually closed 7-6(3) 4-6 6-0.
It felt like an even tougher loss for Luca Nardi. The 19 year old was opposed to crafty David Goffin on the Campo Centrale, but it looked like he was not put off by the importance of the court. The Italian dominated for a good hour thanks to his brilliant tennis and led 6-3 4-2, with a chance to go up 5-2 and serve for the match. At the end of a rally that the youngster dominated, Goffin defended a deep volley with a high lob leaving the court open. Nard smashed in the net and it looked as if his confidence broke with the wasted chance.
Goffin capitalized on it and the match swiftly turned around with the Belgian taking the victory 3-6 6-4 6-2.
Similar dynamic was faced also by Francesco Passaro against Spanish veteran Alberto Ramos-Vinolas. The 22-year-old took an early break in the deciding set of his first round. From 3-0 up, he suffered the return of his lefty opponent that with his forehand cross court started to block Passaro on his backhand corner and from there he had no way out. The Spaniard quickly went from trailing to leading with a break and closed on his second match point with a 4-6 6-1 6-4 score.
Another heart-breaking loss came in the evening, when Stefano Napolitano battled for almost two and half hours with Alex Molcan before surrendering 4-6 6-3 6-7(1).
Italian fans, however, had a fair share of joy, especially those that stayed on Pietrangeli after Zeppieri’s match, as they witnessed the return to winning ways in Rome for Marco Cecchinato. The clay-court specialist from Sicily, who reached the Roland Garros semi-final in 2018, took down US Mackenzie McDonald in straight sets 6-3 7-5.
Lorenzo Sonego also had a great chance to celebrate on the day of his 28th birthday, as he cruised past Jeremy Chardy 6-2 6-1.