Vincenzo Santopadre, the man who follows Matteo Berrettini, the first Italian in the history of tennis to reach the final at Wimbledon, finished his graduation exam the day after the final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. In a few days he would have turned 19, on 11 August I will celebrate 50 and, on the day of the European final with Italy in the running, he hopes so much to see Matteo climb into the players box to embrace him, crowning a journey that began when Berrettini was little more than a boy. But regardless of how the final against Novak Djokovic goes, the ten-year path started in 2011 by Matteo and Vincenzo – friends even before being a player and a coach – wonderful and starts from afar.
Santopadre, a Roman like Berrettini, started playing when he was eight, al Sant’Agnese Tennis Club, club frequented by parents and two older sisters. Then the first courses, the five training sessions per week at Parioli, the first tournaments and the Italian junior individual and team titles, finally the debut among professionals: he reached the hundredth position (not one more and one less) as best world ranking, playing only one singles match in a Grand Slam tournament, right in Wimbledon, in 1999, losing in four sets (all finished in a tiebreak) to Australian Wayne Arthurs. The Internazionali d’Italia, on the other hand, are linked to the two most prestigious victories in the major circuit (in addition to the five Challengers won in singles): the one against Karol Kucera in 1998 and the one against Magnus Norman in 2001.
After his career as a player, Santopadre – who as a boy chose tennis, putting football aside, and grew up in a family that owns a restaurant not far from the center of Rome – began his career as a coach, with the qualification of national coach and the role of manager of the Tennis School at the Aniene Rowing Club, with whom he won the Serie A1 and where he met, among others, Matteo Berrettini. Having been a professional before him, Vincenzo raised Matteo on a technical level but especially mentally, starting from the assumption that the boy should have become his own coach: The game, won or lost, counts up to a certain point at this moment – he said in 2017, when Matteo’s name started to circulate in the environment -. I am interested in the level of play, which step by step must rise more and more. Advice, from a distance, Vincenzo gave Matteo to Matteo also during last year’s lockdown, which Berrettini spent in Boca Raton with his partner Ajla Tomljanovic: I told him to always work on the serve, which for him is a very important, vital blow – he told -. And to train for the response to be ready when you can return to the field.
Santopadre, today, together with Stefano Cobolli (father of Flavio, emerging talent of Italian tennis) the technical manager of the Rome Tennis Academy, at the entrance to the Rome-Florence, metaphor of a journey that has led him to travel the world in the wake of Matteo for some years now. Even at the cost of taking away precious time from the children Matteo and Giulia had with ex-wife Karolina Boniek, daughter of Zibi, ex Juve and Roma and current Uefa vice president.
Matteo and Vincenzo travel together: there are the mental coach Stefano Massari, Umberto Rianna : head of the Federtennis Over 18 project and who follows Matteo closely in synergy with the private team – the physiotherapist Ramon Punzano, the friend of all time Marco Gulisano, lo sparring partner Marco Mosciatti, and happen to see too Craig O’Shannessy, an analyst who collaborates with the team using data and statistics. And then there are Luca, Claudia, Jacopo and Ajla, mom, dad, brother and girlfriend. Because Berrettini’s successes are the successes of those who have seen him grow and those who are close to him every day.