Adriano Panatta

Extract from Hard Courts: Real Life on the Professional Tennis Tours by John Feinstein

For years the Italian was considered the most corrupt tournament in the game. Line judges routinely cheated foreigners who were facing Italians. When Adriano Panatta won the tournament in 1976, almost every player he beat felt he had been cheated. One umpire quit in the middle of the match, when he was not allowed by the tournament referee to overrule several horrendous calls. (It was in fact in 1978, read the all story here: Italian Open 1978: silenzio cretini! )

One story Italians tell holds that in the early 1980s, when Panatta, the god of Italian tennis, was beginning to slide, he would sit in on the draw – then done in private – to make sure he drew a first-round opponent he could beat.

The story goes that one year, Panatta rejected three different names that were pulled out for him, the last being Ismael El-Shafei, an Egyptian who won a few matches on tour during his career. On the fourth try, El-Shafei’s name came out again. Okay, Panatta said, I’ll play El-Shafei. He did – and lost.