Ubaldo Scanagatta had plenty of reasons to raise a glass of champagne at the 2018 US Open.
The long-time Italian journalist turned 69 years old on Aug. 31, the 35th consecutive year that he has celebrated his birthday inside the media room at the US Open. Maybe even more impressive is that this year’s US Open represents his 150th Grand Slam tournament as a credentialed member of the media.
In addition to three-and-a-half decades in Flushing Meadows, Scanagatta has also covered 45 Wimbledons, 43 French Opens and 27 Australian Opens. It’s an incredible body of work that has earned the Florentine a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable scribes around.
Scanagatta worked his first US Open in 1984, the year of the iconic Super Saturday, perhaps the greatest day in the history of tennis. From there, he was hooked.
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"Famous ’84, two semifinals which went both to the fifth set," Scanagatta said. "Lendl-Cash and McEnroe-Connors. Then there was also three sets between Evert and Navratilova [in the women’s final]. It was outstanding. After one US Open like that, I couldn’t miss the next one."
Scanagatta, who helped establish the International Tennis Writers’ Association, says one of the most memorable stories he has covered at the US Open was when Flavia Pennetta defeated Roberta Vinci in the 2015 final.
"Being Italian, when in 2015 we had the final, Penetta-Vinci, that was incredible," said Scanagatta, a fine collegiate player himself as well as former tournament director of the now-defunct ATP Florence event. "What was most incredible was the win that Roberta Vinci scored over Serena Williams when everybody was expecting Serena to win the US Open, to make the Grand Slam, nobody could ever even think of Vinci winning. Of course, the Premier, who is Florentine, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, hired a flight with the President of the Olympic committee in Italy to watch the final.
WATCH: 50 for 50 - Flavia Pennetta, 2015 women's singles champion
"He had to take a charter plane because there was not time to organize a trip because she won late in the evening. We were very lucky to have four girls in the top 10, we had Francesca Schiavone, who won the French Open and was ranked No. 4; Sara Errani, who made the final in Paris and semifinals here and was No. 5; Flavia Pennetta won it here and was No. 6; and Roberta Vinci, who made the final here and was No. 7."
Scanagatta’s journalism career has seen him commentating on TV, writing for every major Italian newspaper and, more recently, writing for tennis website Ubitennis, a site he started 10 years ago. Having covered the sport since virtually the start of the Open era, it’s no surprise that the affable Italian has an eclectic collection of stories and anecdotes.
There was the time he took John McEnroe on the back of his motorbike to buy jewels for Tatum O’Neal when McEnroe played in a tournament he ran in Florence, the time he went dancing with Vitas Gerulaitis and the time he introduced Ilie Nastase to one of his future wives over pizza in Tuscany.
Another of his favorite memories was how he landed an exclusive interview with Boris Becker after the German won the Australian Open in 1991.
“Boris won the Australian Open and he was on the same Lufthansa flight, Melbourne to Frankfurt,” Scanagatta recalled. “He was offered champagne because he became No.1 in the world, winning in ’91. He offered champagne to all the first and business class. Next to my seat was the doctor of the German [Tennis] Federation, a good friend of Becker’s. Boris fell on me while he was talking [to him]. I was asleep and I woke up to Boris Becker almost kissing me.
"I said, 'Boris what are you doing? He said, 'Sorry, sorry, sorry what can I do to excuse myself?' I said, 'Next week, we play Davis Cup, Italy versus Germany in Dortmund. You can give me an exclusive interview just before it.' What you couldn’t expect was that on Thursday in Dortmund at the draw ceremony, 200 journalists and German writers were there because he was for the first time No.1 in the world. He said, ‘Please, now everybody out of this press conference, I have a one-on-one interview.' There are the incredible stories that not everybody can tell."
Scanagatta, one of five Italian journalists working at the 2018 US Open, says his favorite non-Italian player to watch was Jimmy Connors. "He never surrendered, he was incredible," he said. "Even though he didn’t have a great serve and he didn’t have a great forehand, he had one incredible shot which was that double-handed backhand.
"He was also able to fight and compete for every ball. It was incredible. He never accepted to surrender when Borg and when McEnroe did better. I remember someone saying John McEnroe has such a delicate touch, they would like to be caressed by him."
Scanagatta called several of Connors’ matches at the 1991 US Open for Italian TV, including Connors’ comeback from two sets down against Patrick McEnroe in the first round, his five-setter against another American, Aaron Krickstein, in the Round of 16 and the quarterfinal win over Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands.
"The match Connors won against Krickstein has always been the match showed on American TV every time it was raining," Scanagatta said of the contest that was replayed seemingly every time rain delayed play in Flushing Meadows. "Since we had the TV rights in Italy, we were also showing that match and they were showing it with my commentary. So in Italy, all the Italian tennis followers have heard my comments on that. It was very exciting."
Other matches that stand out for Scanagatta at the US Open include Fabio Fognini coming back from two set down to beat Rafa Nadal in 2015,
Linda Ferrando beating Monica Seles in the 1990 third round and Becker saving match points against Derrick Rostagno en route to winning the 1989 US Open. “Rostagno has an Italian background even though he is Californian,” Scanagatta said, veering off into another memory. “He said, ‘You should pronounce my name like lasagna: "Rostagno" like "lasagna" -- with the soft "g" -- not "ro-stag-no." ' "
In addition to his work with Ubitennis, a website that has versions in Italian, English and Spanish, Scanagatta is also the lead tennis writer for three daily papers: Il Giorno in Milan, La Nazione and Il Resto del Carlino in Bologna.
“Sometimes we have a played from a certain region and they want more space,” he said. “If a player comes from the north, like Lombardy, Il Giorno wants more. La Nazione is more in Tuscany and Florence, so if there’s a player from Tuscany, they want more space for interviews. Every day we have to adjust. Fabio is from the north of Italy, but he’s the Italian No. 1 and the No. 13 in the world so everyone wants him, he’s the last survivor.
“[Marco] Cecchinato is Sicilian, so he is very important in the south. His run at the French Open, all the papers were asking two pages. One day we had to write 10 articles about Cecchinato when he made the semifinals, and I couldn’t do that all by myself.”
Evening matches at the US Open make meeting deadlines for stories on Fognini and Cecchinato more difficult that in, say, Paris or London, but Scanagatta said that’s part of what makes the US Open unique.
“The enthusiasm, the participation of the crowd, every tournament has its specifics,” Scanagatta said. “This is a tournament that gives the opportunity for the best players to win. You have to be a clay-court specialist to win on clay. On grass, same thing, they win on grass but nowhere else. Hard court is a balance, everyone can do it. There are many reasons why the US Open is an important slam that you shouldn’t miss.
“To see Todd Martin, at 2 a.m. running around after a great win and doing 'gimme five' to all the spectators in the front row, it would never happen at Wimbledon.”