Catching up with Luca Nardi

Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent

On Sunday, March 5, 2023, Luca Nardi played the fourth ATP Challenger final of his career at the Pune Open. Heading into it, the records were stacked both against and for the Italian.

For one, he was facing Max Purcell. The Australian was not only on a 14-match winning streak in India that saw him win the Challenger titles in Chennai and Bengaluru but he’d also beaten Purcell in the quarter-finals of the Bengaluru event just a week prior to their Pune meeting. On the other hand, the 19-year-old Nardi had not yet lost a Challenger final he’d played.

Of course, one of these streaks had to come to an end and so it did. As it turned out, Purcell halted the teenager’s run of unbeaten Challenger finals to win his third straight title in India and his 15th consecutive match. And so, back to the proverbial drawing board went Nardi. He might’ve not had the biggest – figuratively speaking – silverware in Pune but reaching the finale still brought him plenty of rewards.

For one, he gained 23 places in the ATP singles rankings which now sees him in the 128th place this week. It’s two removed from his previous career-high of no. 126 in the world that he achieved in November 2022 on the backs of the three Challenger events he won that year.

Starting with the title in Forli in his native Italy in January, Nardi climbed the winner’s podium in Lugano, Switzerland in March before finally winding up as the champion in Mallorca in August. That year, Nardi played 15 Challenger events in total of which nine were in Italy itself. He wrapped up his season in October by playing two last Challenger tournaments in Ortisei and Bergamo. These two tournaments were also the last the country hosted that season.

From January unto October 2022, Italy held 28 ATP Challengers. Forli alone had six Challengers with five of these being held in successive weeks in January and February. The Forli VI Challenger was held in May, which also had two other tournaments in Francavilla al Mare and Vincenza in the two preceding weeks.

This steady trickle of tournaments on Italian grounds has become a constant to be appreciated. Beyond appreciatory tokenism, it’s also led to a consistent outpouring of Italian players, one of whom is Nardi, on the tour. When Tennis with an Accent spoke to him during the Bengaluru Challenger, Nardi acknowledged how immense this was for him and other home players trying to make their way forward professionally.

“We are lucky to have so many Challengers in our country,” Nardi said. “They also give me some [support] so the [Italian] federation’s very helpful with us. That’s why now so many players are doing well.”

Nardi’s statement thus becomes a convenient segue for the conversation to flow onto his compatriots who as he put it, “are doing well” on the circuit.

This week in the ATP singles rankings, including Nardi, Italy’s got 19 players in the top-200. Six of these are in the top-100 while the rest are the top-200. Most of these guys are around the ages of 20-22 – Nardi’s the youngest of the lot – with two 21-year-olds, Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti leading the pack from the 13th and 21st places of the rankings, respectively.

Asked to speak about how much their growth has spurred his momentum and will to keep at it, their younger-by-two-years countryman didn’t shy away from voicing his thoughts.

“I know them very well. They are so good players. They are doing much better than I am. What they have achieved is, for sure, inspiring me and inspiring, also, all the players. So, it can be very helpful because, maybe, they can also teach us how to make it, how to do the right things, (and) to do (them) the right way,” he said.

For someone who picked up the sport because his older brother used to go to the tennis club in the coastal town of Pesaro before opting to make it his full-time vocation at 16, Nardi’s come a long way in these following three years.

This year, Nardi’s in the race to qualify for the ATP Next-Gen Finals and is currently placed 14th. Interestingly, he’s placed behind another Italian, the 21-year-old, 196th-ranked Matteo Gigante. One would imagine that Nardi, who was the first alternate in the 2022 Next-Gen fiesta, would be eager to make sure he makes the cut as one of the top-eight qualifiers this year. But the youngster confessed his thoughts weren’t anywhere near that tournament.

“No, I try not to think about it,” he began when the topic came up. “Because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. If I’ll enter in the Next-Gen, I will be so happy, of course. But I try to not put much pressure on myself and I try to do my best now.”

So far, Luca Nardi’s attempts to do his best have seen him pocket decent successes with a keenness to keep adding to them, despite knowing there will be setbacks along the way. Hopefully, the Napoli-loving Nardi will continue to do the same. Just like his favourite football club that’s built quite a reputation for itself while getting past its share of tumultuousness over the course of years, has been doing.

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