Conversation with Pancho Di Matteo

Our favorite sport has some challengers with a great history behind it, tournaments that are more popular with players and more appealing than others. The Rome Garden open It is one of them, a real test bed for future tennis champions, played around the Internazionale d’Italia and which hosts important talents every year. Do you think that among the first players in the world, 25 (at least) walked on the red ground of the Garden Open.

The prestige of this tournament is undoubtedly attributed to its historic organizer, the former Davis player. Ezio “Pancho” de Matteo, With whom we have had the pleasure of chatting. “I gave a wild card here a few years ago Sitsipas and Rublev “, He explains, what makes us immediately realize the level of the garden. And he added: “Just the other day I was checking out How the world’s top 20 in the ATP rankings have crossed over here. And if we extend our focus to the top 100, there are many more. “

At the Garden Club bar, we meet Pancho by chance while having coffee over the counter with some people. When I asked him for an interview he told me to be available for chat because he is a real and very friendly person. Seeing him, in fact, we are convinced of the way he interferes with all those who stop and greet him, while we wait to go to a quiet place to start the interview.

Pancho also represents a part of the history of Italian tennis, he started many years ago as an ordinary ball boy and came to play Ion Tyriak And with Ile nastase. Challenges to the Davis Cup in his career Mulligan, Converse, Orantes. He played in an Italian league final with Nicola Pietrengelli. And he came to play in tennis sanctuaries such as Wimbledon and Roland Garros, challenging Laver, Ash And Panatta. After leaving the circuit he decided to invest his whole life in this sport.

He has been hosting the Garden Open for 26 years And so we begin the interview with a balance sheet of the 2022 edition that has just ended: “The response from the public has been very positive, I have never seen so many people like this year. Certainly many Italian champions increase their desire to participate and having 10 Italian players in the top 100 in the world is a great promotion for this game. People are getting increasingly hungry to watch live matches, especially after the long epidemic that we have experienced. And it turns out that in these 6-7 days at least 8-9 thousand people came, a lot for a tennis club “.

When we ask him if it is difficult to organize a challenger like Capitolin, he answers: “It is very complicated and it gets more and more every year. If you have a sponsor to help you, you can create a challenger. We start in November to set up the tournament and we do our best. But without sponsorship it gets complicated, I have to be honest “.

Moreover, it does not take any compensation for organizing five tournaments. Of course, he is one of the owners of the club, but this kind of sacrifice is not clear. For the participants’ tennis standards, he judged it to be “too high.” “These players – he mentioned – can beat 40-50 in the world without surprising anyone. Now they all play well. Except for the top 10, a number 80 moves at the same speed as a number 30. The difference is that after 20 exchanges the number eighty Wrong, number 30 after 25. That’s all. They all serve very well and what changes is above all mentality.

What difference did you see when you were playing in the circuit? “Gears have changed, now we play fast, even if Panatta And Turner They already needed 200 kilometers per hour. But it is also difficult to compare with 30-40 years ago. Change sports, change athletes. Now the low is 1.80 high, which makes a difference in terms of serving. Then they have all the athletic trainers, they focus on nutrition. Athletic preparation times are probably the same as then, always four / five hours a day. In any case, the ultimate winner is the one who has more, as in every game and in every age. “

Talking about the quality of the game and going back to the version, Pancho also remembers when a certain Juan Carlos Ferrero He played in the qualifiers, when the tournament was only 10,000. “She reached the final and was still unknown. I remember when I told the Wilson correspondent, ‘Take this guy who plays well.’ He is only 17 years old and still has no contract. ” And when we ask him for an anecdote, he tells us a personal recollection of the years he spent in the garden, almost moving away: “I have fond memories of a boy who, unfortunately, is no longer here, Federico Luji He came to play at the age of about 20 and whenever he played badly and lost a point he would shout ‘Pancho panchu, these fields’. Then a version of the tournament won it, we were all overjoyed and one of the best memories of Federico and this tournament was his immense joy.

One of the features of Garden Open is its ability to breathe the air of freedom, You go around a lot of talent and in short, you get to see great tennis up close, all for free. For this we ask him if he ever thought of giving an entrance ticket. “So far we haven’t thought about charging the entrance,” he explained We want to make tennis as familiar as possible, To give the spectators the opportunity to watch the players from a distance of 5 meters for free. We also see it as a form of propaganda. Unfortunately, times have changed and costs a lot. We try our best to improve, but I think someone should give us a hand. “

In this case, what kind of cooperation do you get from local organizations? Because in the end you offer a service to the citizens by giving free admission to this kind of tournament.
“No one gave us a big hand locally. And I really think that in the end we deserve a little help, because this is one of the most important tournaments in Italy and on the European circuit. “

What do you recommend for very young people, since unfortunately you are not in Challenger and not always the youngest can afford to travel abroad.
“It’s difficult if you don’t have financial resources in the beginning, unless the federation helps you with a wild card. Because otherwise you can’t even play qualifier. It would be very difficult if the federation did not include the twenty-five or thirty boys it controls. “

There has been a recent debate over the redistribution of prize pools, mainly centered on the top of the rankings. What do you think about it. “I think we should give a few more ATP points to take the players to the top and then help those who organize the challengers, maybe initially bring 100,000 tournaments to 125,000. But the most important thing will still be the point. “

We come back to the garden here and stop. Did you expect an Italian winner?
I was hoping that an Italian would win. Also last year it actually happened with Pellegrino, but the nice thing about this year is that the two Azzurri even got to the finals, it never happened before. Of course, I must admit that I am sorry for Flavio Coboli, who is now a reality. Last year I gave him a wild card and his number was 750, in one year he has become 140 in the world. And this volume speaks.

Another young man that you would like to recommend to our readers?
“Luka Nardi is a great promise, he plays really well. I saw him a few years ago when he was younger, he has very good skills for playing tennis and the results are starting to show. “

Good. We are following him very carefully. And we will continue to do so.


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