Napoli, Barletta e oltre: Il trionfo degli italiani nei Challenger.

The party begins. The Italian Challenger circuit returns to the stage starting this week, for a long season full of tournaments of extraordinary quality. Are they ‘just’ Challengers? Perhaps, before judging by the name, one should take a look at the hall of fame, a faithful mirror of how much beauty there is in the circuit considered (wrongly) minor compared to the ATP.

For this, Naples and Barletta, the events of these two weeks, are a perfect example. The Tennis Napoli Cup, over the years as a Challenger, boasts a series of winners comparable to that of a major tournament: starting from 1995 we find Thomas Johansson, Felix Mantilla, Davide Sanguinetti (runner-up to Marat Safin), Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet (twice, in 2003 and 2005).

Barletta is no less, indeed. In 2003, the tournament in Puglia celebrated 20 years since Rafael Nadal’s triumph (which he affectionately remembered as his first trophy in that category after 6 Futures), but even before that, the organizers had done well, considering that from 1997 onwards the names of Carlos Costa, Felix Mantilla and Sergi Bruguera can be found. After Nadal, there would also be Nico Almagro and Richard Gasquet. Only to mention the winners.

Clay remains the queen in the Italian Challenger calendar. Because it is our surface, the one of the Italian tennis tradition, the one on which we have built players and victories, before the circuit decisively shifted to hardcourts, leading to greater balance even in the fields of the Boot (thanks to the fast courts project). However, Challengers mostly take place in clubs, and in clubs the main structures are still dominated by crushed bricks.

In 2023, the Italian Challenger circuit made a stop in Rovereto (indoor hardcourt), before 19 events on clay: Sanremo, Barletta, Roseto degli Abruzzi, Rome Garden, Cagliari, Francavilla a Mare, Turin, Vicenza, Perugia, Parma, Modena, Milan, San Benedetto del Tronto, Trieste, Verona, Cordenons, Todi, Como, Genoa. To then close again on the fast courts of Olbia (hardcourt), Ortisei (indoor) and Bergamo (indoor).

This year, the calendar, as it happens every season, will undergo some changes, but the main structure remains solid. After Naples and Barletta, space will be given to Rome (at the Garden, from April 22 to 28), then to the 175 in Cagliari, Francavilla a Mare, the other 175 in Turin, in parallel with the second week of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. Between late May and June, we have Vicenza, Perugia, Sassuolo (a new addition that is actually a comeback, with a 125 from June 17) and Milan.

Holger Rune, winner in 2021: he was the third consecutive winner of the Challenger in Bergamo to then reach the top 10 (photo by Antonio Milesi)

The ATP has confirmed the dates up to the end of June, so everything beyond that remains unofficial news. However, the bulk of the tour in the middle of the year should lean towards reconfirmation, once again putting Italy among the countries capable of organizing the most events overall.

A fact that matters not only to highlight how prepared and eager our clubs are to step into the arena, but also to give opportunities to Italian players. It is no secret that part of the credit for the great abundance of champions we are enjoying is also due to the so-called minor events. Those that every season serve as a springboard for the big names of tomorrow. Or for those of today.

, 2024-03-27 07:20:34