Class of 1986
World No. 3 (1959)
Grand Slam Results
4-time major champion, 4-time finalist
Open Era Record
Member of the Italian Davis Cup Team 1954-1969, 1971, 1972
Italian Davis Cup Team Captain 1972, 1976, 1977
Led Italy to Davis Cup title in 1976
Overall Record: 120-44
Singles Record: 78-32
Doubles Record: 42-12
There are countless tennis players with high-profile resumes who never felt comfortable playing on clay. Not Italy’s Nicola Pietrangeli. He knew how to play a ball that traveled slower, was equipped to remain in rallies that lasted longer, and possessed the exceptional footwork needed to slide into shots. Pietrangeli had classic strokes, a conventional game plan, and an economy of effort that made him a supreme clay court player. He reached the finals of seven events on the Roland Garros red clay and won four. His marvelous touch and fluid game was on display in winning the French Singles Championship in both 1959 and 1960. He won the doubles title playing with 6-foot-6 Italian partner Orlando Sirola in 1959, slipping past the Australian tandem of Roy Emerson and Neale Fraser, 6-3, 6-2, 12-10. He earned a mixed doubles trophy in the 1958 French with Australian Shirley Bloomer over Aussies Lorraine Coghlan and Bob Howe, 9-7, 6-8, 6-2.
Neither of Pietrangeli’s French singles titles were easy, nor ended quickly, but that’s expected when playing on a surface where outright winners are rare. Patience is rewarded; Pietrangeli was patient. In 1959, he defeated South African Ian Vermaak 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. The following year against Chilean Luis Ayala, “Nicky” needed five sets and a lot of groundstrokes to defend his championship 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Even in his defeats in 1961 and 1964 against the great Spaniard Manuel Santana, who played a steady diet of clay court events, Pietrangeli wouldn’t weaken; he would have to be defeated. He dropped the 1961 affair 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 and the 1964 match 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5.
Pietrangeli, who was ranked in the World Top 10 five times between 1957 and 1964 reaching No. 3 in 1959 and 1960, played the Australian Championships only once, advancing to the quarterfinals in singles and doubles in 1957. He ventured to the U.S. Nationals a mere four times, twice reaching the third round (1955, 1965) in singles and the quarterfinals once in doubles. The grass surface that Wimbledon presented deterred Pietrangeli much less. He played Wimbledon 19 times from 1954 to 1973 and was a semifinalist in 1960, losing in a doozy of a match to Rod Laver, 4-6, 6-3, 8-10, 6-2, 6-4. Taking the Rocket to five sets on grass spoke volumes about Pietrangeli’s all-court mastery.
Pietrangeli felt totally comfortable playing Davis Cup, where he proudly represented Italy from 1954 to 1972. He is the leading all-time Davis Cup player in both singles and doubles wins. He compiled a 120-44 overall mark (78-32 in singles, 42-12 in doubles). He and Sirola comprised the most successful doubles team in history, winning 34 of 42 matches. However, they weren’t able to lead Italy to a championship as players. That title did come in 1976 however, as Pietrangeli captained the team to a 4-1 victory over Chile in Santiago, Chile, for Italy’s first and only Davis Cup championship to date.
One of the most popular and endearing players on tour, Pietrangeli won 53 singles titles as an amateur. One of those victories was a nifty four-set victory (6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 8-6) over Sirola at the Wiesbaden Championships in 1955. He also copped the Italian International Championships in May 1957 with a straight sets (8-6, 6-2, 6-4) victory over Giuseppe Merlo. He won titles in Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Finland, and Germany, to name just a few.
Australian Championships: QF 1957
French Championships: W 1959, 1960
Wimbledon: SF 1960
Australian Championships: QF 1957
French Championships: W 1959
Wimbledon: F 1956
French Championships: W 1958
U.S. Nationals: QF 1955