By Giri Nathan
All photographs by David Bartholow
As enchanted as I am by Naples—especially its pizzas, almost soup at their centers, cooked by a guy irradiated with pride for his ingredients—I do not look to that city as a model of logistical excellence. Trash bags teetered in fat stacks on the sidewalks. I have been led to believe that has something to do with organized crime. I don’t think organized crime has anything to do with the parodic failures of the 250-level ATP event that took place in Naples this week, but I would be intrigued and saddened (and on some level almost relieved) if it did. At least then there would be a clear scapegoat and the Italian Tennis Federation could leave with some dignity.
Naples has hosted high-level tennis since the early 20th century, a history baked right into the name of the tournament venue, Tennis Club Napoli 1905. As recently as the ’70s it was a key stop in the spring clay swing, though its prominence receded in the next decades, before reemerging in the ’90s as an ATP Challenger event, which has been held nearly every season since. Last year it was won by Tallon Griekspoor, devourer of a record-setting eight Challenger titles. This year, because COVID-19 wiped China events off the ATP calendar, the tour awarded a few single-year licenses to pad out empty weeks. Florence put on a 250 last week, apparently without issue. Naples, bumped up into the big leagues, also got a 250 license for this week. Historically the tennis has been on clay, but this was to be a hard-court tournament, which required the club to lay down new courts. That’s where everything went to shit.
With just weeks to go, organizers were still scrambling to construct the venue, which proved difficult in rainy weather. When qualifying rounds began this past weekend, the athletes refused to play. It’s hard to blame them: The court resembled wet paper towel. Seams and divots everywhere. Only a starved and depraved tennis player (or New Yorker, if there’s a difference) would compete on this terrain.
Matches were moved to a different club in the city 40 minutes away. In the meantime, Tennis Club Napoli blamed the manufacturer tasked with surfacing their courts, stripped the courts, and had last week’s courts shipped in from Florence, to be installed in time for the main draw. These wound up unplayable too, as sea air rendered the hard court slippery. Clay definitely has its advantages when you’ve built your tennis complex on the shores of the Gulf of Naples.
The main draw has been a predictable wreck. Corentin Moutet’s first-round match on Tuesday was suspended after half an hour due to wet conditions; he went on to win in three sets. His next match offered no relief. “I’ve been waiting all day to play. I want to play. But it’s too dangerous. I can break my leg on every point,” Moutet said to the umpire during his second-round match on Thursday. He lost the next point, spiked his racquet, and soon enough was telling the umpire he wanted to retire from the match—and retire he did, while trailing Miomir Kecmanovic just 3–5 in the first set. Elsewhere, the second-round match between Pablo Carreño Busta and Fabio Fognini was suspended due to court conditions after just three games.
Hopefully things have been smoother off the court? It appears the Italian Tennis Federation refused a Naples wild card to retiring 38-year-old Andreas Seppi, who hoped to wind down his career in his home country, calling it a “waste.” And apparently Colombian doubles player Nicolás Barrientos returned to the official tournament hotel to discover that his and his wife’s belongings had been thrown in a pile in the lobby, after he’d been forced to change rooms for the second time in a week. “This is the last straw,” he wrote. Also, tournament organizer Cosimo Napolitano just said that anyone criticizing the event on social media is “un imbecille.” Napoli, I love you, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing you on the calendar next year.
Above: Not up to the standards of Italian tailoring for Marton