#NextGenATP star Francesco Passaro is the latest Italian to have made his mark on Tour this season, with the 21-year-old capturing his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in July before climbing to a career-high No. 122 last month.
Passaro’s strong form has seen him rise into qualification contention for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, with the Italian currently ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan.
However, life could have been very different for the talented righty had he decided to pursue football over tennis when he was a teenager.
“When I first started playing tennis [aged six], my family was basically living at the club,” Passaro told ATPTour.com. “My house was just two minutes from the club and for me it was easy to go there. Then when I started to go, I had a lot of friends and it was like my second family. I think I spent more time there than at my home.
“When I was young I also played football. Then when I was 12 years old, I started to only play football, for one year. I stopped practicing tennis and was just playing a few tournaments because it was too much. I was a goalkeeper in football and it was very nice. However, [it made me realise] I just wanted to play tennis.”
Passaro’s decision to swap his boots for his racquet has paid off this season, with the 21-year-old enjoying runs to three Challenger Tour finals before he finally tasted glory on home soil in Trieste.
The Italian, who describes himself as mentally strong on court, possessing a powerful serve and forehand, is pleased with how he has performed against higher-ranked opponents on the big stage this season.
Passaro lost to #NextGenATP Dane Holger Rune in the final in San Remo, while he fell to #NextGenATP countryman Lorenzo Musetti in Forli. Both Musetti and Rune will compete in Milan in November.
“Both [finals] I lost in the third set,” Passaro said. “Against Holger, I was 4-2 and break point to go 5-2 up in the third set, so it was not easy after the match but I know I have played well against a big player. I understand my capacity and what I can do. Against Lorenzo, he is a big player, so I just have to stay positive after this loss. The last final I was very focused, I was determined [to win]. There was a little bit of pressure, I lost the first set and was nervous, but in the end, I just tried to play my best tennis.”
Passaro will compete at just his second tour-level event this week in Florence, where has accepted a wild card into the ATP 250 event. It will provide the home fans with an opportunity to watch him in action, with the 21-year-old one of several Italians in the draw.
Eight of the Top 20 players in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan are from the European nation, signifying the strength in depth the country has. Passaro is delighted to travel on Tour with his countrymen and feels their success helps motivate him.
“It is great,” Passaro said. “I am close [with] Matteo Arnaldi. We have played a lot of tournaments together and in doubles, so we are very close friends. Also with Lorenzo [Musetti], with Giulio [Zeppieri], Luca [Nardi] with Francesco [Maestrelli]. With these guys we have played a lot of Challengers together this year, it is something special to play all these tournaments together.
“When one starts to win, I think ‘I can also win a tournament’. So we improve our results every week and with the rankings we want to join each other. A very big help for us is the tournaments [in Italy]. We have the opportunity to play every week in Italy at a big level.”
With confidence high, Passaro will be aiming to finish his season in Italy at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. The 21-year-old, who holds a 29-14 record on the Challenger Tour this season, is excited at the possibility of competing in Milan at an event he has fond memories of watching.
“I watched on TV last year and two years ago when Jannik won,” Passaro said. “I think for me it is a big opportunity because it is in Italy and it is going be of the best under-21 players in the world. It is a very big goal. This year I have grown up a lot. I am now more about myself. The Italian crowd. The energy of the stadium and the atmosphere is very, very nice.”