June 18, 2024

Open Court


ROME – Just on the other side of the wall, six-time Italian Open champion Novak Djokovic was practicing with top Italian Jannik Sinner.

But that’s not where everyone was Tuesday afternoon at the Foro Italico.

They were packed into Court 4 – and many of them across in the stands on Court 3 – to watch Flavio Cobolli.

The 21-year-old, ranked No. 183 and listed as weighing 156 pounds, was going for the first career Italian Open main draw he earned on his own, against 21-year-old American Emilio Nava.

It was a fair fight, in the sense that they have similar rankings even though it was in the final round of qualifying at a Masters 1000.

It was dramatic, and tense – and the crowd absolutely LOVED every second of it.

Here’s what it looked like (not allowed to post match footage, probably not even in qualifying, so did my best to give a sense of the atmosphere without violating any laws).

Cobolli pulled off a comeback – 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5, breaking in the final game to take it in two hours and 38 minutes.

It was one of those moments – dad/coach Stefano emotional, a ton of Cobolli’s buddies in the stands to watch it and crush him with hugs afterwards. And, of course, the partisan crowd cheering on his every move.

Father and son were both on TV with Italian rightsholder SuperTennis right after the match.

(From SuperTennis)

Fourth time lucky

Cobolli had had a couple of opportunities offered by the tournament in the qualifying before. In 2020, ranked No. 932 and newly a professional, he went down 6-0 in the third set to top-100 player Dominik Koepfer.

In 2021, ranked No. 449, he retired down 2-6, 0-2 to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a top-50 player.

Last year, with a wild card into the main draw and with his ranking up to No. 150, he lost 6-3, 6-4 to Jenson Brooksby – then ranked No. 38.

This year: a break. In the first round of qualifying he drew Nikoloz Basilashvili, a former top-20 player who’s had a pretty rough go of it lately (on court and off). Basilashvili retired down 2-5 in the first set. And then Nava.

And he made the most of it.

Cobolli still spends much of his time on the Challenger circuit. But just a few weeks ago, he qualified at the ATP 250 in Munich and reached the quarterfinals, beating solid players Jordan Thompson and Oscar Otte before falling in three sets to Christopher O’Connell of Australia.

A serve-volley – in Australia?

The first time Open Court caught sight of this kid was in the qualifying at the Australian Open in 2022.

We were trolling the back courts, as we do, and came upon this kid we’d never seen before. He was in a real tight match in the first round against an Aussie – and all of a sudden he serve-volleyed like a champ. Given he’s Italian (yes, I’m generalizing), it was an unexpected and joyous moment. He got through the match as well, but lost in the final round to Tomas Martin Etcheverry.

Cobolli showing off his volley during the Australian Open quallifying in 2022

So Cobolli has been a been on the Open Court radar a bit since then.

But it’s a slow climb – especially as the next step for him is going to be to try to transition from being a Challenger clay-court guy (mostly at home in Italy as well), to taking on the world.

But this is a good start.

He faces Arthur Rinderknech of France in the first round in Rome on Wednesday evening.

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