The 2002 Italian national championships took place in Moncalieri, a little town near Turin, from the 13th to the 21st of December. The A.S. “Le Pleiadi” hosted the event on its indoor clay courts with a prize money of 25500 €.
Silvia Farina-Elia, by far the best Italian player at the moment and the 2000 national champion, skipped the event as well as all the best 8 Italian players. The entry list could have included great players such as the former French open quarterfinalist Francesca Schiavone, the talented and brilliant veteran Rita Grande, the 2001 Italian champion Tathiana Garbin, the French Open junior doubles champion Flavia Pennetta, last year’s Australian Open quarterfinalist Adriana Serra-Zanetti and her sister Antonella, who completes the set of the 7 Italians who are in the top 100 and who have played the Australian Open in the main draw this year. Outside of the top 100, were also missing the doubles specialist Roberta Vinci and young talented promises such as Maria Elena Camerin and Valentina Sassi.
With a relatively poor field, thanks to her #167 position in the ranking, Nathalie Vierin was the first seed and the logical favourite.
The draw was made with the weird format of the “tabellone di selezione”: while the first 4 seeds were qualified automatically for the quarterfinals, the seeds #5 - #8 started to play in the last 16, #9 - #12 in the last 32, and so on: the higher the ranking, the later the players started playing, with the four lowest ranked players having to win 7 matches to reach the quarterfinals. This kind of system favours the higher ranked players a lot, and of course it was adopted to push the best Italian players to join in (quite unsuccessfully, it seems
Giulia Gatto Monticone, 15 years old, ranked around #1100, won 7 consecutive matches to qualify for the quarterfinals to face the first seed in Nathalie’s debut match. Though she lost (in her 8th match in 8 days
), it was probably the most interesting performance of the event and it will be interesting to follow Giulia’s next results.
Silvia Disderi, another talented and promising player from Biella, reached the semis but lost to Vierin as well. Both Giulia and Silvia are from Piedmont, my region.
In the other semifinal match the third seed Rita Degli Esposti won a three set battle against Stellato, who had upset the second seed Laura Dell’Angelo in the quarters.
The day of the final, Tetetubby and I arrived about half an hour before the start of the match. Nathalie was practising and she was so kind to make a few photos with us. At the start of the match there were no more than a few dozens of spectators, no TV, no journalists (except for our dear friend Tetetubby
). The atmosphere was simply not there.
Rita won the toss and chose to receive. Both players haven’t a very powerful serve (though Nathalie can place it very well), and there were four consecutive breaks at the start of the first set. Nathalie was a little bit nervous at the beginning of the match, but once she settled she made a streak of four consecutive games from 1-2 to 5-2; after Rita held her serve for the first time, Nathalie closed the first set comfortably for a final score of 6-3.
But the match was very far from being over: Rita showed her great defensive skills, her mental strength and her experience to come back very impressively. Another slow start for Nathalie, and the left-handed Rita found herself with a 2-0 lead and a few chances to go up 3-0; she lost her serve, but then another gutsy reply let her break again to lead 3-1. At this stage of the match Nathalie was able to raise the quality level of the rallies and seemed to take control of the second set when she broke again. At 2-3, I would have bet Vierin was going to close in straight set, but with the 5th consecutive break out of the first six games, Rita stopped Nathalie’s come back, kept the lead, stayed in control and finally confirmed her mental strength holding her serve to close the second set and to level the match at 3-6, 6-3.
There was a long break after the end of the second set, with both players going off-court. Probably this pause didn’t help Rita very much as she completely lost the momentum. Nathalie had a great start and seemed very focused and determined to win the title. Once she settled and started playing at her best, the technical superiority was clearly evident. Rita seemed a little bit tired too, and she couldn’t close a few long rallies, even missing an easy shot at the net with the open court. Though Rita is a very fast player, Nathalie made a few killer drop shots with no chances at all for her opponent, who started struggling with her confidence too. Though the third set score is a little bit too harsh to Rita’s great effort, Nathalie Vierin closed the match with a bagel to become the 2002 Italian national champion.
In the last three season, Nathalie has been able to win three ITF events and to settle into the world’s top 200 and the Italian top 10. The following week she left for Melbourne to play the qualies at the Australian Open, but she lost to Cargill in three sets in the first round. Let’s hope the national title will bring her good luck in this season.