© Fotojump/Rio Open

Gianluca Mager reached his first ATP Tour final this February in Rio de Janeiro.

Mager's Momentum Halted By Lockdown

Italian reflects on inspired week in Rio and the 'new normal' for ATP Tour players

After seven years of persistence as a pro tennis player, Gianluca Mager was rewarded by cracking the Top 100 after reaching his maiden ATP Tour final this February at the Rio Open presented by Claro. But the Italian is still waiting to enjoy the benefits of his labour.

Two weeks after his inspired run, the COVID-19 pandemic halted play on Tour and Mager returned to his hometown of Sanremo. The 25-year-old has remained at home since then, but normalcy is slowly returning to daily life in Italy and he recently resumed some of his training.

“We’ve started to play tennis for the past week,” Mager told ATPTour.com. “I tried to do some exercises in my house before that, a lot of core work and stretching. I tried to eat well and not gain too much weight. It’s not easy because my house isn’t that big and I couldn’t go out, but I did my best.

“The situation is a bit difficult because our job is to travel every week, so to stay in one place for three months and do the same thing every day is strange. But I’m happy because I can stay with my family and my girlfriend. I’m trying to take advantage of spending time with them.”

[TENNIS AT HOME]

A smile still flashes across Mager’s face when he talks about his week in Rio de Janeiro. He arrived with two tour-level wins in his career, but came through qualifying and took out Buenos Aires champion Casper Ruud in the opening round, then followed up with a stunning quarter-final upset over then-World No. 4 Dominic Thiem. Mager moved from No. 128 to a career-high standing of No. 77.

Although Mager initially imagined that he’d be competing in ATP Masters 1000 events and making his Grand Slam main draw debut this month at Roland Garros, the pandemic has shifted his priorities. With more than 223,000 cases of COVID-19 in Italy and 31,368 related deaths as of 14 May, he’s simply grateful to be healthy.

“I feel a bit sorry because this is the first time I could play in the main draw of ATP Tour events and Grand Slams. I was playing well, felt confident and could have done even better in my results,” Mager said. “But I’m still happy because my family is healthy and nobody got sick [with COVID-19]. A lot of people died in Italy, so in these moments, tennis is only a second priority.”

Mager’s surge into the Top 100 is even more surprising given his unconventional path. He only competed in three ITF junior events and preferred to spend his teenage years enjoying the picturesque views of his hometown. But after being introduced to former ATP Tour player Diego Nargiso, he ditched his partying ways and dedicated himself to the sport at age 18.

In his first year as a pro, Mager took a train and bus every day to practise in Beausoleil, a French commune that adjoins Monaco. Despite the grueling commute, he never missed a training session.

“I didn’t give too much importance to tennis when I was younger. I preferred to be with my friends and stay outside,” Mager admitted. “When I was 18, I started to take it seriously. I stopped going out and started going to bed early. When I met Diego, he helped me to become motivated and it finally became a real passion for me. I started to practise better and was more professional.”

It’s a lifestyle that the Italian has grown accustomed to. Although he’s enjoyed strengthening his relationships with loved ones that he doesn’t get to see much during a normal year, Mager is eager for play to resume on Tour.

“I can’t wait to enjoy the tournaments that I would have played during the lockdown,” Mager said. “I was playing a lot of smaller tournaments before this, but now I’ll get to be on the ATP Tour and it’s going to be a completely different thing.”

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