Renowned Italian tennis journalist and writer Gianni Clerici has died at the age of 91 in Bellagio, on Lake Como, where he lived, La Repubblica, his long-time employer, announced on Monday.
Gianni would write stories that thousands of people who did not care much about tennis would love because he was a painter in print. Ubaldo Scanagatta
A former two-time Italian junior doubles champion, Como-born Clerici wrote about the sport for La Gazzetta dello Sport, Il Mondo and Il Giorno before moving to La Repubblica when it was founded in 1976.
He wrote books about tennis, as well as a few novels, plays and poetry, and was described by Italo Calvino as a ‘writer on loan to sport’.
He was a popular commentator for many years on Italian television alongside Rino Tommasi, working first for Tele+ and then Sky.
Known for his immense flair and distinctive personality, Clerici regaled audiences on the air and kept readers thoroughly immersed with his imaginative reporting and excellent story-telling skills.
“Gianni was a great writer who was stolen by the sport of tennis, in a sense, because he was an artist who could write about anything,” said his longtime Italian colleague Ubaldo Scanagatta. “His colourful description of the players was unique.
“Gianni would write stories that thousands of people who did not care much about tennis would love because he was a painter in print.”
Much loved within the sport, he became only the second Italian to be inducted in 2006 into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in recognition of his immense contributions to tennis as a journalist, historian, and broadcaster, following two-time French Open winner Nicola Pietrangeli.
Highly respected, Clerici was the author of dozens of books, not only on tennis, and amongst his most famous work was 500 Years of Tennis, published in 1974 and widely regarded as the definitive book on the origins of the sport through the first century of competition.
Clerici’s research was always meticulous, and the book was hailed as a masterpiece by many other learned critics of the game as he took his readers back to the 14th Century, and carried them into the 1970’s in his sweeping historical overview on the evolution of tennis.
It established his reputation as a writer of monumental works. The book was updated with successive editions until 2013.
Thousands of articles published in newspapers throughout his life have come from his pen, while his main qualities were his irony and skills as a narrator.
In addition to his work as a writer, Clerici was a discerning art collector, who amassed a carefully curated personal collection of tennis-inspired art from the 17th century to the 21st century.
The exquisite collection included paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and more, from which more than 30 pieces were recently acquired by the ITHOF and are now on display in the ITHOF Museum where tennis enthusiasts can enjoy exploring the sport through the unique eye of a keen tennis expert and thoughtful art collector.
His contribution as a newspaperman began in 1951 in Milan where he reported for Il Gorno for 25 years before joining La Repubblica in Rome, for whom he wrote for more than 30 years.
Clerici found time to explore every forum available to him as a communicator, including magazines and many books.
His illuminating biography of the French icon Suzanne Lenglen, Divina, was one of Clerici’s most important works, lauded by the literati for the richness of his insights and the clarity it brought to a singularly compelling champion who transformed the world of women’s tennis.
Clerici authored numerous other books on the game, including two on instruction, and also established himself as a distinguished playwright, who was honoured for the ‘Best Play of 1987’ in Italy called Ottavino e Cleopatra.
He also wrote several other plays, a number of novels, and even some poetry.
Giovanni Emilio ‘Gianni’ Clerici was born on July 24, 1930 in Como, Italy where he lived for much of his life.
As a boy, he developed an affinity for tennis and was a successful junior player, capturing two National Junior doubles titles in 1947 and 1948, as well as reaching the final of the singles in 1950.
In his early twenties, Clerici competed in the men’s singles at Wimbledon, making the main draw in 1953 and appearing in doubles a year later.
As well as he may have played the game, Clerici was born to use his masterful creative force in a different way, as a supreme wordsmith when holding a microphone, or controlling a keyboard, and ultimately an artist unlike anyone in the tennis journalistic world.
The Italian Tennis Federation has announced that the Press Room at the Foro Italico will be named in honour of Clerici.