Francesco Passaro – Photo Francesco Peluso
In a few months, Francesco Passaro’s career has radically changed: to the sound of victories he has become the new blue “Next Gen”. “Everything has changed thanks to the winter preparation in Tirrenia. Training on concrete will help me, and now I’m professional even in the details ”. He got off to a good start in Milan, as did the Azzurri: there are seven of them in the second round. Retirement of Benoit Paire.
Numbers never lie. And they say that Francesco Passaro’s rise is impressive. When he entered the ASPRIA Tennis Cup – BCS Trophy (€ 45.730, clay) he did not have a sufficient ranking to play in the main draw. They had reserved a wild card for him, but he would still play the qualifiers. The physiological pre-tournament withdrawals have guaranteed him direct admission and he is even the eighth seeded, among the favorites of a tournament that started very well for the Azzurri: we have seven in the second round, by virtue of five wins out of six. on this maxi-Tuesday. Many spotlights on the Perugian, who collected a routine victory against the young Romanian Nicholas David Ionel: 6-0 6-4 and a place in the second round – as a favorite – against Canadian Alexis Galarneau, who caused the only defeat of the day for Italy (6-1 6-3 to Federico Arnaboldi). In a few weeks, the Umbrian went from being an underdog to a favorite, a point of reference in the scoreboards of this level. “In fact there is more pressure, but I live calmly and I try to express my best tennis – says Passaro – the opponents are starting to fear me because I have asserted myself. But I’m calm, I don’t feel anxieties or pressures “. Number 600 in the world at the beginning of the season, today he is in 254th position after an extraordinary semester, with an ITF title and two Challenger finals, in San Remo and Forlì. Without forgetting the wild card at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, earned with the pre-qualifiers. “This year I have invested differently in my tennis. I did all the preparation on concrete, at the Tirrenia FIT Center, and for this I have to thank the federation for the opportunity. In addition, I have changed my mind a lot. I am more positive on the pitch, I fight point by point, and the victories have had a beneficial effect ”.
Passaro’s path was slower than some of his peers. As a child he lived above the Junior Tennis Perugia, where he started at 6, but when he was 12 he dedicated himself to football, ceasing training with the racket. “After a year I realized that I liked tennis more, so I decided to be a professional, even if I just started doing it seriously. But the many years of work have helped me in terms of mentality, I like to work and in training I leave everything myself “. In fact, on the pitch he is generous, one who will know how to make the public love him. Added to this are good qualities, forged by the coach of a lifetime, Roberto Tarpani. He has been following him since he was 9 and they have never separated. “I think he will remain my coach forever, also because we are working well – says Passaro – maybe to take an extra step we can add someone, but for now there is no need for other figures. By now our relationship is almost like a father-son, he was my godfather at confirmation and first communion. Having raised me he understands me very well, he knows when it’s time to push me and when maybe I’m not in the mood. It is an important key to doing your workouts in the best possible way “. In his young career, Passaro played 110 professional games, including 93 on clay. It will probably remain his better surface than him, but he is aware of the importance of concrete. “In fact, if I have to do 2-3 weeks of training I try to go to the FIT Center in Tirrenia, as long as there are also other level athletes – he says – I feel very comfortable, I think it’s the right thing to do because there are no distractions . My attitude also changed thanks to that, I became a professional even in the details. As for the surface, I had never trained too much on concrete. Doing it continuously will help me improve many aspects, even on clay, such as staying close to the pitch and catching the net. Let’s say that I have to complete myself and be able to play on all surfaces ”.
A DELICACY CALLED US OPEN
For now he does it excellently on clay, faithful to a path lived without too many anxieties. At the ASPRIA Tennis Cup 2021 he lost in the first round of qualifying against his peer Giulio Zeppieri: we asked him if he would think, 12 months later, of presenting himself in the role of star. “Maybe not this year, but I knew I had this tennis in my strings. I had to train better and more consistently, but I knew I could do it. Let’s say that I accelerated the times a bit ”: Born in 2001, he is the same age as Sinner and Zeppieri, as well as being older than Musetti, Cobolli and Nardi himself. But it’s coming late: “But I never thought of missing the train, after all I’ve always been late: I played the first international tournaments at 16, then I accelerated around 18, when I got close to the top 30 in the junior ranking. But each one has his own maturation and his own path: woe to be influenced by others, and whoever is close to you must not put pressure or haste on you, if anything, help and encourage you ”. This is the case of the 21-year-old from Perugia, whose seasonal goals have radically changed: first he wanted to finish the year among the top 350, then build a ranking to play the qualifiers in Australia… and now? “Well, I would like to take off the whim of playing the US Open qualifiers. The lists close on August 1st, I still have this tournament plus four others, I think I can do it. But I don’t want to look too much at points and standings: I have to keep improving my game because I have a lot of margins. I don’t have huge goals in the classification, but let’s say it would be nice to finish the year in the top 200 ”.
ITALY GOES: IN SEVEN IN THE SECOND ROUND
It was a very good day for the Azzurri: of the six on the field, only Andrea Arnaboldi surrendered. For the rest, only victories, with Marco Cecchinato’s difficult debut. The 2016 winner had to fight to beat the young Swiss Leandro Riedi, a quality player (he was a finalist at Roland Garros junior 2020) but still a little immature: born in 2002, he has a bit of a tendency to complain, but he is a good prospect. For this, Cecchinato’s 7-6 6-4 has a certain value. The man from Palermo has just returned from a good week in Parma and aims to do even better at the ASPRIA Tennis Cup – BCS Trophy. In the next round there will be a nice generational derby against Matteo Gigante, also born in 2002. Raul Brancaccio also smiles, good at keeping Filip Peliwo at a distance (who was also run-in from qualifying). With a very robust performance, the Campania won with a clear 6-1 6-3, while Giovanni Fonio and Luciano Darderi also passed the round. The first won a match against predictions, overtaking the French Martineau, while the second – much anticipated – needed a set to take the measures to the expert Inigo Cervantes. The Spaniard put him in crisis for a set and a half, then from 3-3 in the second the Italian-Argentine never lost a game. In the middle of the third set, Cervantes raised the white flag when the score was 4-6 6-3 3-0 for Darderi, who will be the protagonist of the key match on Wednesday: he will challenge Ernests Gulbis in a generational clash, moreover between two players with culture and profoundly different backgrounds.
PAIRE RETREAT, GULBIS-DARDERI COMING SOON
In closing came the retirement of Benoit Paire. The number 76 ATP was highly anticipated, but he raised the white flag after a set. The performance of the first set had reflected his moment of confusion: under a break, he recovered and then went to serve for the set at 5-4… except for a break to zero. After canceling two setpoints at 5-6, he did worse in the tie-break: ahead 6-3 and with three setpoints available (two of which with service available) he lost five points in a row. At that point, he decided that this was enough. Now the scoreboard “opens up” even more: whoever emerges between Cecchinato and Gigante will have the winner of Marozsan-Vatutin in the quarters. Excellent professionals, for heaven’s sake, but certainly not unbeatable. Wednesday’s program includes four singles matches: in addition to the highlight Gulbis-Darderi, two other Azzurri will be on the field: Gianmarco Ferrari will open the program on the Central against the Japanese Mochizuki, while Giovanni Fonio will look for a half-game against Alexander Shevchenko: in his career, the Piedmontese has only won one match against an ATP top-200 (Gastao Elias in Genoa, in 2018) but the tennis expressed in these days feeds some hope. To close the program, the tournament favorite Federico Coria will be called to confirm the excellent sensations shown in the first round, against the Belgian Joris De Loore.
Center Court – Italian time: 11:00 (local time: 11:00 am)
1. [LL] Shintaro Mochizuki vs [WC] Gianmarco Ferrari
2. [Alt] Ernests Gulbis vs  Luciano Darderi
3. [Q] Giovanni Fonio vs  Alexander Shevchenko (not before: 14:30)
4.  Federico Coria vs [Alt] Joris De Loore (not before: 17:00)
Grandstand – Italian time: 11:00 (local time: 11:00 am)
1. Matteo Martineau / Juan Bautista Torres vs  Romain Arneodo / Jonathan Eysseric
2. Alexey Vatutin / Tristan-Samuel Weissborn vs Zvonimir Babic / Fabian Fallert
3. [WC] Federico Arnaboldi / Gianmarco Ferrari vs [PR] Raul Brancaccio / Inigo Cervantes
4.  Luciano Darderi / Fernando Romboli vs [PR] Alexander Merino / Petr Nouza
Court 13 – Italian time: 11:00 (local time: 11:00 am)
1. Piotr Matuszewski / Andrew Paulson vs Viktor Durasovic / Aldin Setkic
2. [WC] Matteo Gigante / Francesco Maestrelli vs  Diego Hidalgo / Cristian Rodriguez
ASPRIA TENNIS CUP – BCS TROPHY (€ 45,730, clay)
First Round Singles
Shintaro Mochizuki (GIA) b. Andrew Paulson (CZE) 6-0 6-1
Giovanni Fonio (ITA) b. Matteo Martineau (FRA) 6-3 7-6 (6)
Luciano Darderi (ITA) b. Inigo Cervantes (SPA) 4-6 6-3 3-0 retirement
Alexis Galarneau (CAN) b. Federico Arnaboldi (ITA) 6-1 6-3
Francesco Passaro (ITA) b. Nicholas David Ionel (ROM) 6-0 6-4
Viktor Durasovic (NOR) b. Georgii Kravchenko (UCR) 3-6 6-2 7-5
Raul Brancaccio (ITA) b. Filip Peliwo (POL) 6-1 6-3
Fabian Marozsan (UNG) b. Juan Bautista Torres (ARG) 6-2 6-2
Marco Cecchinato (ITA) b. Leandro Riedi (SUI) 7-6 (7) 6-4
Alexei Vatutin (RUS) b. Benoit Paire (FRA) 7-6 (6) retired
First Round Double
Lomakin / Manafov (KAZ-UCR) b. Lammons / Withrow (USA-USA) 6-7 (12) 6-3 10-8
Huey / Skugor (FIL-CRO) b. Cornea / Pavlasek (ROM-CZE) 6-4 7-5