Tournaments & Trips

Santa Croce ITF Juniors Grade 1: touching the legend, meeting Italian soul

Santa Croce 39th International Tennis Tournament

I am writing this post, sitting on the open terrace of Santa Croce Tennis Club – the legendary place of European junior tennis. Martina Hingis & Victoria Azarenka, Gustavo Kuerten & Andy Murray, Ana Ivanovic & Amelie Mauresmo played here while being juniors. Though the tournament itself is over for Sashka – she lost yesterday in the final round of qualifications – we both are very happy to be here. Below I want to tell you what we experienced, saw & felt in these past 3 days.


Why Santa Croce ITF Juniors Grade 1 so special? There are a lot of factors, from long history (almost 40 years!) & good organisation to convinient location for European players. As for me, the main key for stable popularity is timing: there is three quite good ITF Juniors Grade 2 tournaments before (Firenze, Salsomaggiore, Prato) and two ahead (Milan, Roland Garros). So it is easy to “in-build” this tournament into any schedule – like the final tourney of the serie or a beginning one.

One more detail of the tournament: this year #1 seeded player in girl’s qualification tourney was #148 ITF Juniors ranked player. Just a few of Grade A tournaments worldwide can show the same high level of participating players!


As always, the road was “a bit of drama”. We travel through Europe mostly by buses, it is the low-cost way to reach from A to B point, though it has a lot of minuses. One of them we “enjoyed in full” last week. The bus was delayed on Slovenia-Italia border (inside Schengen zone!) for additional security check. We stood for 1 hour in the middle of nowhere, while armed Italian army & police officers checked our passports!

Naturally, after this unscheduled delay, we missed our transit time for the next bus, so the bus from Padova to Firenze left without us on the board. Say “good bye” to 130 EUR (93 EUR train tickets + 37 EUR of burned bus booking…)

But the worst thing was: we were going to miss the agreed time of meeting on Santa Croce train station. The tournament shuttle should pick us up at 21:45 that day, but we could not be there in time! We did not have a phone connection (roaming is too expensive), so it was only a slight chance that everything would end smoothly. That was critical, as Santa Croce is located in rural area without good public transportation, so we got a risk to stay on the station for the night if not picked up by tourney.

So we booked train tickets to Padova to Firenze, managed to find WI-FI and informed the tournament that we are going to be late! Fortunately, they were online and answered fast that they would wait for us.

Le Vedute - official hotel of Santa Croce tourney

Le Vedute – official hotel of Santa Croce tourney

We had some more adventures on this part of trip which I skip just to be short :). Finally we successfully arrived to the Santa Croce train station, were met by tournament shuttle and delivered to absolutely fantastic hotel Le Vedute (one of 4 official tournament hotels).


One idea looks more and more attractive for us during this particular travel: what if we manage to buy a pickup car, modify it to drive on LPG to reduce costs and make a sleeping zone in the back part of the car? It can be modified into the sitting zone in the day time, and a couple of compact electric appliances like multicooker & electric kettle can save tons of “restaurant money” while on tour.

When we are on tournament, we can use sanitary facilities of a tennis club – WC, shower etc. We also can fill up portable batteries for car electric devices. So basically we need a place to sleep & cook. This all we can do in pickup slightly modified to meet our needs.

Something like this:

Sleeping zone of the standard pickup

Sleeping zone of the standard pickup

Or even this:

Pickup with sleeping place - a little weird, but highly functional

Pickup with sleeping place – a little weird, but highly functional

I talked about it to Sashka, and she is really happy of the idea.

What do you think about it?


What was the very special on this trip is our beautiful hosts: Stefano and his friends from Circolo Tennis Villanova. That was NOT official action of the tournament. Stefano was one of Sashka’s crowdfunding campaign contributors. When we came to Firenze two weeks ago, we met in person first time. He invited Sashka to play in Santa Croce.

As we struggled to cover our costs of stay in qualification (if you played quali, hotel & meal are NOT covered by tourney, you should pay for it yourselves), Stefano was so kind to cover our hotel costs. Furthermore, he organized the very special hospitality program, which included a practice for Sashka with local sparring, a special “kids day” (Sashka played with local boys & girls!) and charity lottery!

It was unforgettable experience for Sashka & me! We met the very special people there – Mariella, the President of Tennis Circolo Villanova; Riccardo, who made most of pictures you saw these days on Twitter :), and his 2 sons who supported Sashka from stands during all 3 matches; small Alice who can’t sleep at night waiting to play a tie-break vs. Sashka.

I can’t find enough words to describe that warmth & soul people from Villanova hosted us. So thank you all, our new friends, again & again!

Stefano, Sashka & Mariella

Stefano, Sashka & Mariella


Sashka & her best "stand fans" Tommy & Alex

Sashka & her best “stand fans” Tommy & Alex


Sashka & her little fan in Tennis Circolo Villanova where we spent a beautiful day

Sashka & her little fan Alice in Tennis Circolo Villanova where we spent a beautiful day

That’s all for this post – not to bother you with too long texts.

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