Nicola Pietrangeli

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games (non-medal events)
SexMale
Full nameNicola•Pietrangeli
Used nameNicola•Pietrangeli
Nick/petnamesNik, Nikki
Born11 September 1933 in Tunis (TUN)
NOC Italy

Biography

Nikki Pietrangeli is considered to be the greatest Italian tennis player of all-time and was the first Italian to win a Grand Slam singles title, winning the French Championship two years in succession, 1959-60. He was the son of an Italian father and Russian mother and was born in Tunisia. He grew up in Roma and began to play tennis relatively late because his first sporting passion was football. He learned to play tennis without professional coaching and his instinct for the game, as well as his technical skills, saw him develop a backhand pass that was one of the best seen in the game at the time. The Italian press of the day called it Il rovescio di Dio (The backhand of God).

Pietrangeli burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old when he won the Italian Youth Championship, and remained at the top of Italian tennis for more than 20 years, and at the age of 40 reached the final of the Italian Championship at Perugia before handing over the mantle to Adriano Panatta. Pietrangeli was loved by fans for his charisma and pleasant manner, and they appreciated his elegant style and talent, including his skilful use of the drop shot.

Pietrangeli was comfortable on clay and appeared in four men’s singles finals at Roland Garros, winning against the South African Ian Vermaak in four sets in 1959, and the following year by beating the Chilean Luis Ayala in five sets. Pietrangeli was runner-up in 1961 and 1964, beaten both times by Spain’s Manolo Santana. Pietrangeli also won the French men’s doubles title in 1959 with Orlando Sirola, and the mixed doubles in 1958 with the British woman Shirley Bloomer. At Wimbledon, Pietrangeli was a singles semi-finalist in 1960, when he lost to the phenomenal Australian Rod Laver after five sets (4-6, 6-3, 8-10, 6-2, 6-4). Pietrangeli won the Italian Open in 1957 and 1961 and was ranked world number three in 1959-60 by the journalist Lance Tingay. Pietrangeli won three times on the clay court at Monte Carlo (1961, 1967-68) and also won at Hamburg, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Palermo. In addition, he won the 1963 Mediterranean Games singles title at Napoli, beating Santana in five sets. He also won the doubles bronze medal with Sirola, in a tournament won by Niki Pilic and Bora Jovanovic from Yugoslavia. Between 1955-72 Pietrangeli won a record 24 Italian Championships (seven singles, 16 doubles and one mixed doubles). He competed in 43 Grand Slam tournaments between 1954-72 (19 French Open, 19, Wimbledon, four US Open and one Australian Open).

Pietrangeli represented Italy in the Davis Cup in a record 164 matches between 1954-72, winning 120 of them. He appeared in two finals (1960 and 1961), losing on both occasions to Australia, at Sydney (1-4), and Melbourne (0-5) respectively, whose team was made up of the formidable trio of Laver, Roy Emerson and Neale Fraser. After his active career as a player, Pietrangeli became Italy’s Davis Cup team captain on 11 occasions and guided them to their first-ever triumph in 1976 when Adriano Panatta, Corrado Barazzutti, Paolo Bertolucci and Tonino Zugarelli beat Chile 4-1 at Santiago. With the same players a year later, Italy lost the final in Australia.

Outside sport, Pietrangeli, the father of three sons, was an actor and appeared in two films in the 1980s, La donna giusta by Paul Williams, and with Virna Lisi and Clio Goldsmith, and C’era un castello con 40 cani by Duccio Tessari, with Peter Ustinov. Pietrangeli spoke fluent English, Spanish, French and Russian, and lived in Monte Carlo. In 1961 he became a Commander of the Italian Republic and in 1964 was awarded the athletic valour gold medal for exceptional merits. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 2006 the Italian Olympic committee, following a request by the Italian Tennis Federation (FIT), named the old tennis stadium at Foro Italico, Roma, in his honour. He is one of very few tennis players to have received such an honour while still living.

Results

Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1968 Summer Olympics Tennis ITA Nicola Pietrangeli
Singles, Men (Olympic (non-medal)) =9
Singles, Men (Olympic (non-medal)) =3
Doubles, Men (Olympic (non-medal)) Manuel Orantes =5

Special Notes