Something unusual occurred within the last couple weeks. It was the actions of one man that made people take notice. The irony is that if you were in reasonable proximity of this gentleman, you couldn’t help but notice, but from a distance, you could have easily missed the significance of this short television clip.
The recent US Open Tennis Tournament took place without fans in attendance. It was odd to watch tennis being played at the highest level amidst the eerie silence within the world’s largest tennis venue. But on Saturday, September 5th, I was watching the highly anticipated 3rd round match between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens. Whenever Serena plays a Grand Slam match, it always draws a great deal of interest, because she has been in pursuit of her 24th Grand Slam title, which would tie the all-time record.
Even though Serena’s match in the stadium was the main attention grabber, network coverage could not help but cut away to the antics of an exuberant individual in the park outside the grounds of the tournament, near one of the outside courts. Italian Matteo Berrettini was facing Casper Ruud from Norway on Court 17, but it was a demonstrative and boisterous man with long hair and a shaggy beard, pacing incessantly outside the fence, who had attracted the attention of television cameras for his persistent and resounding cheers. The man’s name was Giovanni Bartocci, owner of an Italian restaurant in Manhattan that had in recent years become a popular hangout for a number of Italian tennis players, including Berrettini, during the annual stay in New York City for the US Open. Sadly, and consistent with other disruptions of 2020, Giovanni’s restaurant suffered severe damage from a fire in February and was forced to shut down.
From where he stood, Giovanni barely had a view of any aspect of Court 17, but he could follow the score of the match, point by point, as projected on a giant scoreboard. Each time that Berrettini had earned a point, Giovanni was shouting into a bullhorn in support of the athlete who was his inspiration. Keep in mind that Giovanni was not reacting only to the key points when Berrettini won an important game or set. That certainly would not have been enough to garner television coverage. It was his ongoing enthusiasm after each point successfully earned by Berrettini that could not be ignored. Park patrons, including several socially distant adults and children on bicycles, had to wonder what could have excited Giovanni to such a degree.
Courtside tennis commentator, Brad Gilbert, immediately recognized Giovanni as the restauranteur that had been loudly cheering from Berrettini’s “Friends Box” at last year’s US Open, and Gilbert referred to him as “a fan of one” who was making a difference. Ultimately, Berrettini soundly defeated Ruud in straight sets, 6-4 6-4 6-2. At the end of the match, Berrettini could be overheard clarifying to Rudd that his presumed crowd of supporters was in fact “just one guy”. That was a clear indication that Berrettini both heard the energetic support and understood who was behind it. Giovanni Bartocci was recognized on ESPN’s SportCenter that evening as the #1 “Play of the Day”, and I was encouraged by his unbridled enthusiasm.
I’m reminded once again that sometimes it just matters that someone is pulling for you. The fact that someone else believes in you and believes you can accomplish more than you thought possible is a force that cannot be fully described by physics but with an impact that would seem exponential. We all should strive to push others toward greater success and achievement, and in doing so, we assure that the future will be brighter.
By the way, within 2 short weeks, Berrettini faced Casper Ruud in the Italian Open, on a different court surface, but this time Ruud prevailed in a deciding set tiebreaker. Giovanni was not in attendance to support Berrettini in the same way, and I have a difficult time believing the result was just coincidental. Those of us who are natural cheerleader types tend to think we have some level of influence on outcomes.
“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”
- Vince Lombardi