Rome Masters Winners

Rome, ITALY: Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal poses with the trophy after defeating Chilean sixth seed Fernando Gonzalez (6-2, 6-2) during their final of the tennis Masters Series in Rome, 13 May 2007. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON
The biggest names in professional tennis have come to the Foro Italico and left as victors. Celebrated players like Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ilie Nastase, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier have walked off with the eminent clay court title. In the women’s event Chris Evert, Margaret Court Smith, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf have lifted the title at least once.

What is somewhat surprising is that it has been 76 long years since a British men’s player claimed the honours in Rome. George Hughes defeated Frenchman Henri Cochet in three sets in 1931! The last Englishwoman to have claimed the crown was the highly esteemed Virginia Wade. She defeated Germany’s Helga Niessen-Masthoff in straight sets 6-4 6-4.

The local contingent of Italian players has also had a bit of a shoddy run in recent years. The last Italian to claim the Rome Masters was Raffaela Reggi in 1985. She defeated American Vicki Nelson-Dunbar 6-4 6-4. Adriano Panatta became the last Italian to claim the men’s singles event with his fourset triumph over Argentine great Guillermo Vials, 2-6 7-6 6-2 7-6.

Since the year 2000 the men’s event at the Rome Masters has been dominated by players of Spanish origin – Rafael Nadal has claimed four titles, and prior to his successes Juan Carlos Ferrero, Felix Mantilla and Carlos Moya kept the Spanish flag flying high. 2008 saw a new champion in Novak Djokovic, the talented young player captured the title, defeating Stanislas Wawrinka in the process, while Rafael Nadal suffered a shocking defeat in the second round. Nadal once again came back in full force to with the 2009 Rome Masters, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final.

In the early 1990s Spaniard, Conchita Martinez was dominant at the Foro Italico, but in recent years the finals have been contested by a real mixed bag of players. It must be said, however, that Frenchwomen Amelie Mauresmo has been in the thick of things since the start of the 21st century. She claimed back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2005 and featured as runner-up in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Upcoming tennis star and former world number one, Jelena Jankovic claimed the title in 2008, and could well be on her way to claim a Grand Slam title at Roland Garros too.

Dinara Safina is the latest winner at the Rome Masters ladies tournament, the newly crowned World Number One (May 2009) won her first clay court title of the year in Rome, defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tournament that saw powerful contenders Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic knocked out in earlier rounds.

Rome Masters winners have seen some epic battles. The 1968 match-up between Tom Okker of the Netherlands and Bob Hewitt of South Africa will be remembered as one of these. Okker eventually walked off triumphant after contesting five close sets, 10-8 6-8 6-1 1-6 6-0.

Vitas Gerulaitis and Guillermo Vilas brawled it out in 1979, with Gerulaitis the eventual winner of the five-set contest, 6-7 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-2.

There have also been whitewashes over the years at the Foro Italico. Worth mentioning are:

  • 1973 when Romanian Ilie Nastase crushed Spaniard Manuel Orantes, 6-1 6-1 6-1.
  • In 2007 Rafael Nadal clinched the title over Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in two sets, 6-2 6-2.

In the women’s event Gabriela Sabatini won the tournament four times in 1988, ’89, ’91 and ’92. Yugoslavian Monica Seles rained on her parade when she claimed the title in 1990 by defeating the distinguished Martina Navratilova in what can only be termed a one-sided affair, 6-1 6-1.

What is remarkable is that neither Roger Federer nor Justin Henin have ever lifted the title in Rome. Roger Federer was runner-up in 2003 and 2006 and the closest Justine Henin has got to the title was as a finalist in 2002 when she was subdued in another marathon encounter with American superstar, Serena Williams, 7-6 6-4.