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Having been able to travel the most beautiful beaches in the world was my biggest joy. I saw beautiful places, but the most important thing for me was the clique and the social contacs.Marco Ortolani
In commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of BEACHCLUB2010®, we wanted to give a voice to our friends and faithful companions who have been by our side throughout our journey. We spoke to players, organizers and commentators about their beach tennis stories. You can find them in the following interviews.
Marco Ortolani, 52, was born in Ravenna/Italy and still lives there. With his unique stile he followed beach tennis since 2003. The speaker Marco Ortolani gave 150 tournaments his voice, among them nine editions of the event “Città di Cervia”, six of them had the title ITF Beach Tennis World Championships. Orto, that's how his friends call him, has always been a sports enthusiast. His work as a journalist gave him the possibility to support it. He invented the Oscars of beach tennis, honoring togehter wirh a lot of colleagues the best players each year. Orto wrote a bookcalled "Beach Tennis Ravenna Capitale", whre he describes the growth of beach tennis in his town. He left as a phrase for our anniversary: Give me my beach in Emilia-Romagna, three friends of mine to play, four rackets, one ball, one beer. I don't need anything else.
In our interview he talkes about his experience with the microfone, the best beaches in the world and his favorite Oscars.
Did you ever regret your decision to leave the beach tennis world in 2017?
Honestly not. Even a beautiful adventure like mine in beach tennis had to come to an end sooner or later. Maybe I should have anticipate the timing.
What do you mean?
The difference in age was a big obstacle for me to find the right confidence with the younger players, I had problems to value them. The events became loaded with music and energy, and therefore it needed to be handled by an entertainer instead of a journalist. When I saw that the microfone was given into the right hands I didn't hesitate to step aside. After I gave all that I could to this sport.
You followed the history of beach tennis since the beginning of this millennium. If you had to nominate three special moments, which ones would that be?
My first tournament abroad, in 2006 in Reunion, where I experienced the player's passion for the game we invented. - The first tournament at Foro Italico in Rome in 2008, when beach tennis had the chance to launch, but it wasn't handled the right way. - The tournament in Marina Romeo in 2010, where for the first time, thanks in great part to Alessandro Calbucci, all the best players were united at one event and were able to compete against each other.
Beach Tennis has changed in all these years. How did you perceive the development from the early years with the wooden rackets to the years of the IFBT with Gianni Bellettini to the entry of the ITF until today?
The development was so fast and spectacular, full of episodes and characters, that I decided to write a book. It was clear from the beginning, that everybody who came in contact with beach tennis, was fascinated, espacially the kids. It was a good job of our players, especially the ones from Ravenna, to take the opportunity to explane the technique of the game with their charm, but also to organize spectacular, serious and economicly profitable events.
You worked as a commentator, what significance did it have for you and what were you able to bring to the sport of beach tennis?
I chose my stile, with total impartiality, respect for the game (I never talked during the games like it is common elsewhere for example in Aruba), support for the players (I never dwelled on the mistakes, but always commented the good points), attention for the needs of organizers and sponsors who put in money, further the need to explain the rules and tactics, especially when I knew that there were not many experts in the stands. And I always tried to make players feel like they're in a leading role, talking as much as I could about their personalities and the most curious characteristics. And I tried to involve them as much as possible at the microfone to make them feel closer to the audience that followed the match.
You also wrote a lot of articles about beach tennis. What is the charm of this sport?
It's the semplicity of the rules and the immediate chance for a beginner to hit all the different shots, the serve, the smash, the diving defense. If you think of other sports, you have some important initial limits: in volleyball the serve is already a difficult shot, the defense is very difficult and the smash becomes impossible, if you don't have the right size. In beach tennis you can hit a winner (maybe only one) the first time you use a racket. It's oviously very helpful that we play on the beach, we have that holiday feeling with athlets who are able to show their bodies, their bikinis, their teint, their accessories ecc.
You also follow volleyball a lot. Beach volleyball and its huge success arised from that sport. What steps are missing in beach tennis to take a similar pathway?
In the long run the domination of the Italian players was the biggest limitation. A sport, where you always have the same winners, is considered a local phenomenon. beach volleyball from the beginning had the advantage of the rivalry Brazil/USA (two olympic powers), that was a huge fortune für the sport. From this point of view I expected a lot more from Brazil, Germany, France, the United States ecc. Instead the dominance of my Italian friends is strong until today. At the olympic level a decision to "donate" a medal to a second-row country like Italy seems very unlikely, even if beach tennis already has a lot of good reasons to be at the olympics. The other limiting factor is television. It might be helpful to play with bigger balls, lighted lines, colored sand and to invest in professional tv-production with replays.
Let's go back to the early years, when the Meloni twins were almost unbeatable. What was then the spirit of this game and how did it changed to the date when you stepped away?
At the times of the dear Meloni sisters the game was just a popular pastime and awarded the most talented players. One was happy to win simbolic prizes and trips abroad were seen as touristic adventures. Then players found out that training mental workout, investments of time and money to travel were needed to win. The guys quickly learned different languages to take the earning opportunity they had around the world. At this point beach tennis became a sport: It wasn't enough to be a talent, players travelled to win and not to make a vacation.
Beside the Meloni sisters you saw a lot of top-players on court and on the podium. Who wrote the story of this sport and why? Whom would you give your personal Oscar for their share in the success of beach tennis?
I'd give my personal Oscars to my fellow citizens from Ravenna: Lele Bianchedi-Maurizio Di Cori and the Meloni sisters for their contribution during the pionieer days; Alex Mingozzi and Matteo Marighella who were the first ones to build a team with their close relationship and whom I have always been friends with; Nicola Gambi, the most artistic and spectacular player; Marco Garavini, the natural talent; Paolo Tazzari with his excellent tactics and coaching attitude; Alan Maldini, who brought elegance and power from tennis to the beach; Alessandro Calbucci, the sublime athlet and main character in an act of unifying that has been the key factor in the growth of the game. And then there is Federica Bacchetta, who always believed in it, even though the road for women has always been rougher than for men.
For some years you and some partners in deed awarded the best players of the year with the Oscar. Where did this idea come from and how did players react?
The "Oscars AGB" were my idea. I hoped to be able to widen the visibility of the players, but now I think that we created more controversies than glory. Either the idea wasn't good or people misunderstood it. At the end, who won celebrated and all the others were complaining about it. Maybe it's every award's destiny, from the Cinema Oscars to the awards in music or literature to the Golden Football. The concept itself of "the best" is difficult to define.
You were born in Ravenna, you still live in Ravenna, but for beach tennis you travelled the world. Which ones are your favorite places?
Having been able to travel the most beautiful beaches in the world was my biggest joy. I saw beautiful places, but the most important thing for me was the clique and the social contacs. In Aruba you have a special euphoria that has always attracted even a calm guy like me; in La Reunion I found a great athmosphere; in Gran Canaria a lot of respect for my working position. In fact, what I consider as a real luxury, is staying at the edge of the center court in Cervia with some friends and a beer.
In your list of countries you have visited for beach tennis Germany is missing. Didn't you ever have the desire to come by?
I received a lot of dear invitations from you guys. We had fun envisioning me as the speaker with my only 20 words of German I know. Germany has always been fascinating to me, but everytime there was a problem and I couldn't accept the invitation. I will come by as a supporter.
You are always welcome. What memories do you have of August 3rd, 2014?
They were playing the final match of the World Championships in Cervia. A thunderstorm was coming and it started to blow away things and to frighten the spectators. The players couldn't proceed with the match. So I made an announcement, 15 seconds long, inviting the spectators to move away in a proper manner, without panic and with respect for the players. At the end of that announcement it started raining and everybody was running away. The players accused me of manupulating the match. Because all four players accused me I was sure to have done the right thing.
That was a special year for the WC in Cervia, the match was posponed and finished on Monday. If I remember well the stands were crowded anyway and full of emotions. What memories do you have?
At 2.30 pm of the following game, a working Monday, the stadium in Cervia was again crowded. The restartet the match at 2-2 and 40 all. The team that won that decisive point (which everybody at that time considered "super decisive") afterwards lost the match. It showed that this point was like all the others: important but not decisive.
A lot of historic matches have been played on the center court in Cervia, with Mingozzi/Marighella, Garavini/Tazzari, but then the foreign players came in, the Brazilian girls, first foreign winners at the WC, and the Antomi Ramos from Spain as the first male winner. What did the foreign players bring into the game and how did you see the development of the Italian players, who in the early years seemed unbeatable?
The foreign players, first of all, brought their flags. The great volunteer Pira from Cervia had the idea to let the players walk into the stadium with their flags. It was the chance to present to the public a sport with international character. To see the guys with their national colors, especially at the World Championships, still now is the most important business card of our sport.
On the other hand, how did you see the development in the women's game, a different game but not less interesting, even if it attracts less spectators?
In the women's game we are way behind, and that's a pity. Because the beach is the perfect place to value the women's game and also to admire their beauty in an ambience of respect and safety (In my memory no-one ever showed a lack of respect on a beach tennis court). My advice would be to lower the net height ten centimeters, so you can see more offensive plays. Too often the rallies end with a mistake and not with a winner. Even at the micorfone I realized that this was hurting the spectacle. Maybe a big personality was missing, a girl with charisma who would be able to interprete her role in communication on top of her role as a champion.
In your book “Beach Tennis Ravenna Capitale” you write about the history of beach tennis. After the years of the IFBT World Championships in Marina di Ravenna the center of the sport moved to Cervia for the ITF World Championships, no it even moved out of the Emilia-Romagna region. What is the area losing by that?
I don't really understand my companions: They invented a sport and then let it slip right out of their hands. Nowadays the sport is an engine for tourism, for the culture, for the well-being, for the image of a location. How can you throw away such a great occasion?
This year our BEACHCLUB2010® is celebrating its ten-years anniversary. After the events in Germany starting in 2010, like the ones in the Porsche-Arena in Stuttgart, now we are organizing the event in Saarlouis. If I invited you, would you come by?
It would be an honor. But without the microfone!
Otherwise we have to content ourselves with some Cappelletti al Ragu at the Moro restaurant in Cervia.
That's not just a saying. The foreign players who came to Cervia loved our cuisine and that great dinner parties at the end of the tournaments where future projects were discussed. The reasons for success of the tournaments in Cervia have also been these wonderful evenings.
We worked togehter at the World Championships, we made photos, you wrote the articles. And there has been a collaboration also in Aruba. How do you remember these adventures together?
Extrordanary memories of you and your ability to dedicate time, knowledge and energy to beach tennis. It has always been a pleassure working at your side. I remember a funny episode when you, besides your work for the press and internet, hit the court at the tournament in Aruba in doubles with a very weak Arubian guy. After the first loss he asked you: "What could we do to improve and win our next match?" You answered: "Well, you could start with not drinking ten beers before you go onto the court!" An unforgettable anectode.
In 2010, the year we startet with our BEACHCLUB2010® and a great year for beach tennis with the World Championships at Foro Italico in Rome, you startet a survey, what has to happen in beach tennis to render it more interesting in the future. Balls, Referees, match format, team competition. How do you see beach tennis today with a time leg?
We need an upturn. I find it disturbing to have the paddle tennis as competitors, it seems like they took away players and interests from beach tennis. I wonder how you can lock up yourself in a cage instead of experience a beautiful open beach. We shoud have some testimonies. In the past the right "fighting spirit" was missing to find them.
Maximilian Hamm, March 2020