Vincenzo Santopadre: “I Approach A Task With Passion, Not Just As A Job!”

Vincenzo Santopadre (photo:

HEILBRONN, June 9, 2024

Former tennis pro Vincenzo Santopadre is at the NECKARCUP in Heilbronn, coaching French youngster Luca van Assche. The 52-year-old Italian became widely known to the general public after guiding his compatriot Matteo Berrettini to the 2021 Wimbledon final.

We sat down with Santopadre to talk about both of his coaching engagements as well as the life on the tour on and off the court.

Tennis TourTalk: Vincenzo, is it your first time in Heilbronn?

Vincenzo Santopadre: No, I came here when I still had some hair (laughs). I was really young and a player. I remember it was another Challenger in January. It was a really good, strong tournament.

What are your memories about the tournament in Talheim?

The tournament was organized very well, like all the tournaments here in Germany. There were many good players in the draw like Marat Safin. And I remember that the courts were really fast.

After your career as a pro, you became a coach, working together with Matteo Berrettini for many years. Can you tell us a bit about the beginning of your partnership?

I probably need some days to answer this question, but I try to make it short. He was 14 years old when he came together with his brother Jacopo to my club in Rome, where I started to run a tennis school. It was very close from his previous club where he had some problems and he wanted to work with us. I knew the mother of the two, as she used to go to the same school as me and their grandfather knew my parents. So, I knew him very well and I saw him at at a National Championship when he was 12. So they became part of our tennis school. I soon realized their talent and it was really nice to work with them.

I realized that you posted a couple of photos on Instagram showing Matteo sleeping…

Yes (laughs). He caught me on a photo one time while I was sleeping. And as a tennis player, when someone is serving you try to answer. So we were having fun about it.


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At the end of last year, you parted ways. What were the reasons for this decision?

The decision was, of course, not easy after such a long time. We both realized that at a professional level, sometimes you need to make changes. Matteo had come back from multiple injuries in incredibly strong ways. But we wanted to do something different. Then I suggested to consider the possibility of a fresh start with another coach. Initially, he had doubts and was a bit scared about the future, so I convinced him of this step. This was only possible because we had a very good relationship and still do.

What is Matteo still able to achieve?

I think he can still achieve great things. He has the power and energy to come back. When I recently met him, he was a bit sad because he couldn’t compete in the tournaments in Rome and Roland Garros. Missing the tournament in Rome for the third time is particularly hard for him as a local hero. But I am confident that he will come back even stronger.

Now you are working with the young Frenchman Luca van Assche, whom you are also coaching here at the Neckarcup in Heilbronn. How did that come about?

Luca has been working very successfully with coach Yannick Quere for more than nine years. I was then contacted by Ivan Ljubicic. Ivan, who has been responsible for the “Ambition 2024” project of the French Tennis Federation, sent me a message that Luca was looking for a new coach and would like to get in touch with me. I found it very remarkable that, despite his young age, he contacted me personally and not through a manager or his parents. Although I had other options, I definitely wanted to try it with him.

For me, it is always important that I approach a task with passion and not just see it as a job. The project with Luca is particularly interesting because he is still very young, and as a coach, I can have a significant influence on his development. He has many possibilities in his game. Additionally, he speaks Italian, as his mother is from Italy. I also share the coaching responsibilities with his current coach, which means that my calendar is not fully booked as I was before. The combination of all these factors makes the role very attractive to me.

What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Luca is a very polite and friendly guy who is very calm off the court. On the court, he is physically very strong but still needs to learn how to better handle difficulties. However, I think that’s not unusual for players of his age. Many things that he experiences for the first time, he needs to figure out for himself. He had an incredible junior career, winning a Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and he has quickly risen to the top 60 in the men’s rankings. Now, the focus is on working on his consistency on the court.

During your time here at the venue, we could often see you playing cards together. 

I really enjoy spending a lot of time with him off the court as well. We often play the Italian card game Scopa, which relies less on luck and more on strategic thinking. He’s improving day by day, and he will be able to apply these experiences on the court as well.

How important is this for you that a player engages in activities other than using his smartphone during his free time?

We live in challenging times with the use of smartphones. I’m incredibly grateful that I grew up without these devices. Back then, players spent much more time together, playing cards or doing other activities. They also read books more frequently. With these digital devices, players miss many important opportunities. Social interactions mostly occur through Instagram or Facebook now. Playing these games also helps you to think. For some of the games you need to have the right tactic.

You also dazzled our staff at the players desk with card tricks. How many do you know?

Only a couple (laughs). But it’s always fun when no one knows. It’s important to have a nice time at the tournament, then you will have better memories. When you have a good humor, you’re staying in the right place. You feel more comfortable and play better on the court.

Where do you practice with Luca most of the time?

Luca is based in Paris, where he trains with his other coach Yannick outside of tournaments. After his loss at Roland Garros, we stayed in Paris and continued working there. Otherwise, I mostly practice with him at the tournaments.

What is Luca’s favourite surface?

He loves clay the most, as he grew up on it and feels the most natural playing there. He also enjoys hard courts, where he has improved very quickly. I’m sure he will develop a strong game on grass too, once he learns a few more things about playing on that surface. This is, of course, not so easy since there are fewer tournaments on grass. For the development of his game and technique, it’s important to improve on all surfaces.

What is Luca’s main goal?

He is French, lives in Paris, and has already won the Junior title at Roland Garros. Naturally, his biggest dream is to triumph in the men’s singles at the French Open. We will work hard to make that dream a reality someday.

Thank you.

Interview: Florian Heer and Dietmar Kaspar