The Rome Masters or the Italian Open enters its 89th year ever since it started in 1930. There was a time in tennis’ history when the Rome Masters were regarded as a better tournament than the Australian Open and was higher in prestige compared to the French Open. Even today, the Rome Masters fall in tennis’ second highest tier of tournaments.
Early years: 1930 – 1949
The first five years of the Italian Open were held at Milan’s Tennis Club Milano. Each year till 1934, a new set of finalists fought for the title. In 1935, upon dictator Mussolini’s orders, the tournament was shifted to the country’s capital, Rome. The new venue was named Foro Italico and American player Wilmer Hines became the second American to win the tournament after Bill Tilden, who clinched the title in the tournament’s inaugral year. Tilden won the title aged 38, which is till date the record for the oldest champion at Rome Masters.
In the women’s section, Lucia Valerio, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon and Roland Garros reached the finals each year from 1930 to 1935 but won the final only once in 1931. The tournament was not held from 1936 to 1949 due to political issues and World War II.
The years after the War: 1950 – 1969
When the tournament recommenced in 1950, it was Jaroslav Drobny, then an Egyptian citizen, who dominated the early years of the 50s by clinching three titles of the four finals he reached. Later, it was 2-time French Open champion Nicola Pietrangeli who won two titles in 1957 and 1961.
The years 1961 till 1967 saw 9 occassions where an Australian player was in the finals. Out of all these players, it was Wimbledon finalist and former Top 5 player, Marty Mulligan who won the title thrice.
Margaret Smith, Maria Bueno, Doris Hart and Lesley Turner shared 11 titles between them from 1950 to 1969.
Open Era & Chris Evert’s dominance
When the open era arrived, it was Ilie Nastase, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, Vitas Gerulaitis, Andrez Fomez and Jim Courier who each won the title twice. In 1996, after defeating Richard Krajicek in the finals, Thomas Muster equalled Jaroslav Drobny and Marty Mulligan’s record of three titles. Gustavo Kuerten won the title in 1999 and finished as the runner-up in the next two years.
The women’s event was held in Perugia from 1980 to 1984. It was later moved to Taranto in 1985. Chris Evert reached her first final of the Italian Open and won it in 1974. After that she dominated the tournament till 1984, winning 5 of the 7 titles she reached at the Rome Masters.
Gabriella Sabatini and Conchita Martinez dominated the 90s, winning 4 titles each, thereby equalling Margaret Smith’s record.
2001 – 2017: Rafa Nadal
Among the ladies, Amelie Mauresmo and Jelena Jankovic won two titles each up until 2008. Martina Hingis won her second title after a gap of 8 years since her last title at the Italian Open in 2006.
In 2001 Juan Carlos Ferrero defeated Gustavo Kuerten in 5-sets. It was the first march since 1989 when the winner was decided in 5-sets. In 2003, an unseeded Felix Mantilla defeated a young Roger Federer in straight sets to win his lone Masters title. The following year, another Spaniard, Carlos Moya the won his first and only title at Rome defeating David Nalbandian in straight sets.
2005 arrived and another Spaniard by the name Rafael Nadal defeated Guillermo Coria in 5-sets to win the first of his 7 titles at Rome. Nadal’s last title at Rome came in 2013. Novak Djokovic has won 4 titles of the 8 finals he has reached.
Serena Williams with 4 titles and Maria Sharapova with 3 titles have been the most successful ladies in this tournament in the last decade.
It has been 5 years since Rafa Nadal won a title at Rome. The King of Clay has been dominant this season with his record of 50 consecutive set wins on clay justifying his mastery on the turf.
Novak Djokovic has a win-loss record of 6-6 in 2018. But the Serb has a decent draw at Rome where he can hope to regain his lost form.
Serena Williams has withdrawn from the tournament this year which means she won’t have a chance of equaling Chris Evert’s record at Rome.
Defending champions Alexander Zverev and Elina Svitolina will have many obstacles to overcome with the immense depth in the field at Rome.