The movement is precise. The broomstick is in no way inferior to the best curlers in the world. The jet from his garden hose is just as majestic as the jet perched on Lake Geneva in the distance. Donato Ciriolo is on Center Court at the Geneva Open in his garden – literally.
Because the groundsman of the Geneva tennis club lives right next to the main square. And that since August 31, 1977. At that time he shared the official apartment with his uncle.
The care of the 20 tennis courts – a family history. Donato’s father had worked there. His uncle too. He himself started at the age of eight. “Well, I just helped out,” he clarifies. In 1975 his father decided to return to his native country of Italy. 13-year-old Donato had no choice but to follow him.
Two years later he returns to Switzerland. And never left the end of Lake Geneva again. “I lost my uncle 40 years ago. The following year I became head of technical maintenance and got married.” Again two aspects of his life that he has not let go of.
And since then, Donato Ciriolo has been living at a rapid pace seven months a year. Get up at 5 a.m., start work at 6 a.m. (cleaning, caring for plants and property), finish time at 10 p.m. And that seven days a week. “I tell people that I work from Monday to Monday or from Sunday to Sunday, whichever they prefer,” smiles the 60-year-old.
Even the President of TC Geneva admits: “If Donato says that we can’t play anymore, even I have to listen to him”. In Eaux-Vives, the Italian is the boss.
A slugfest in the semifinals
Donato has many anecdotes up his sleeve. In the 1990 semifinals, Spain’s Sergi Bruguera faced Michael Tauson. The Dane dominated the week thanks to the extremely dry clay court. But the night before it was pouring rain in Geneva. The conditions are also completely different and Tauson loses.
Donato rushes to the square to try to rectify the situation, but “I couldn’t do anything, I was told to leave just for formality”. As he swings the broom at the change of sides, Michael Tauson comes up and grabs Donato’s tool. “I said to him, ‘Okay, but give me your racket.'” The player rushed to do so.
Seeing this, Sergi Bruguera jumped out of his seat and hit a few balls with Donato. The later two-time Roland Garros winner plays with the Italian, who is cheered on by the Geneva crowd. All this happens under the comments of the French-speaking Swiss television.
His love for Lecce
Donato’s eyes start to sparkle when you ask him about Unione Sportiva Lecce, his heart’s club. This has climbed back into the elite league of Italian football this year.
That was a reason for Donato to proudly display the Lecce flag on his roof all day Sunday. A gesture that doesn’t taste good to the organizers. “They told me to take them off… But I’m at home here,” he exclaims, laughing. “Since I get along well with Alain (Tripod, the President of the TC Geneva editor’s note), I took it off.”