Italian Open: Star players complain about pitch conditions in Rome

Written by: Snehanjan Banerjee
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Rome, May 19: The Italian Open which is the final tournament before the Grand Slam French Open is right now taking place in Rome but players have openly criticised the pitch conditions of the tournament, especially that of NextGen Arena which is the second stadium to host the tournament.

Former world number one Novak Djokovic is one of the leading players to make their discontent about the pitch conditions known.

From left: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic

Play has been stopped on the court to repair holes, and second seed Novak Djokovic confirmed that players were unhappy with the surface.

He added that the stadium court, where he played his opening match, has dropped in quality from a year or two ago.

"I don't know how NextGen Arena is with the conditions of the court, but I heard not many positive comments about that,” Djokovic told reporters in Rome. “Center court also is not as good as it was.”

The Serb added that such problems tended to arise on the stadium courts in Rome because of lack of play before the tournament.

"Clay is [a] very delicate surface,” he said. “In order to get it in the proper state, in order for it to have that solid ground, you need to play at least three months on the court before the tournament starts.

It needs to be played more or less regularly, every day. But, you know, unfortunately, traditionally, we have this kind of issues with courts in Rome. The groundsmen are doing their best.

"Nice guys, trying their best. But once a tournament starts there is not much you can do about the court.

"The court's foundation has to be built months and months before the tournament starts, and as I understand, they don't play much tennis on the centre court, and neither on the NextGen Court.

"But as I understand, they play only, you know, three, four, five weeks before the tournament, and they don't play regularly. You can't expect to have a good court in that way."

This has led to concerns about players injuring themselves. Rafael Nadal won his opening round on Centre Court on Wednesday (May 17) when Nicolas Almagro, playing in the stadium, suffered a knee injury and retired down 3-0. It has not been established that the court had any role in Almagro's injury, though.

"The manner of his injury was not positive," said Nadal, who did note that the clay on the stadium court was not substandard.

Both Nadal and Djokovic have won the tournament multiple times— Djokovic is a four-time champion in Rome, while Nadal is a seven-time champion.

They are No. 2 and No. 4 in the rankings, respectively. With Roger Federer pulling out of French Open, both of the two superstars’ chance of winning the French Open become higher while Nadal, the king of clay, is bookmaker’s favourite.

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