A pen from ‘White Gestures’. As a writer lent to sports and journalism, as Calvino called it, Gianni Clerici talked about tennis with a good dose of style more than how he had played it as a boy. But with the same refinement of the times when he only went on the pitch with a white shirt and shorts.
Death reached him at the age of 91, he who called himself a ‘scribe’ and gave epos at every meeting, in voice and paired with Rino Tommasi on TV, but above all in the columns of paper newspapers, from the Gazzetta dello Sport to Repubblica . Stories rather than chronicles, where the result was a detail. Analogies, neologisms (‘bimane’ for Borg, ‘sharp’ for his tennis), learned references, characters and digressions in a short story that often resembled a sort of ‘Goldberg variation’ of journalism: mysterious and harmony, difficult to reproduce . It is no coincidence that he defined tennis “an art form”, adding by subtraction “albeit a minor art”.
He was born in Como in 1930, and as a tennis player (“but I would have liked to play much better”, he admitted one day) he had won two Italian junior doubles titles paired with Fausto Gardini and participated in both Wimbledon and Roland Garros, passing through the Foro Italico, in the mid-1950s. Immediately, however, he devoted himself to the story: with the Gazzetta e il Mondo, then with Giorno as a correspondent, finally as the first signature and then collaborator of Republica.
Infinite the series of articles and the theory of champions told, from Chang to Borg and McEnroe, up to Federer. With a growing annoyance for football (“in Chile, for Davis, about twenty colleagues did not distinguish the ball from their usual ball”). The shelf of his literary works is also very rich. From ’95 is the trilogy of short stories ‘White gestures’, where tennis is ‘only’ the common thread through three decades of stories of humanity and love, from Alassio to London. Clerici’s bibliography includes plays such as ‘Mussolini, last night’ to ‘Suzanne Lenglen’, dedicated to the French pre-war tennis player he judged the strongest of all time “for the elegance of gestures a la Carla Fracci” seen in old photos or vintage videos. And then ‘500 years of tennis history’, a sort of racket Bible published for the first time in ’74, translated all over the world and reprinted six times. “After the Divine Comedy and Pinocchio, it is the most widely read Italian book in the world”, Enzo Biagi said one day, capable of looking beyond the fences and snobberies of journalism.
Despite his poor results as an athlete, he was the only Italian with Nicola Pietrangeli to have entered the international tennis ‘Hall of fame’. Now he is greeted by former champions and historical signatures of journalism. “I already miss Gianni: he was unique and unrepeatable, and he leaves me alone in that ‘Gallery'”, says Pietrageli, captain of that victorious Italy in Davis in ’76 to tell which, against the political requests for a boycott, Clerici resigned from the ‘Day, except then be resumed the next day. “His criticism stung, even if it hurt less because as a light pen,” recalls Bertolucci, another hero of the final in Chile. “He told me that at his first Wimbledon he went to London driving a 500, and he showed up at the field on Sunday asking to a keeper to open the field for him to train as a player of the tournament “, remembers today Paolo Garimberti, friend and colleague of Clerici a Repubblica. “The stationary keeper replied: ‘if he really were a player, he would know that Wimbledon was closed on Sunday'”. Perfect episode for an article by him: from other times, and therefore beautiful forever. (HANDLE).
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