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Volume 20 No. 45
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Plugged In: Ugo Colombini

Ugo Colombini is a professional tennis lifer, first scratching a living as a low-level player in the 1980s and early ’90s and then as an agent not affiliated with the major agencies that dominate the sport. He struck gold in 2009 when one of his handful of clients, Juan del Potro, won the U.S. Open. But a few years later the Argentinian left for a new firm. Now, Colombini’s only full-time client on either the WTA or ATP tours just won a Grand Slam. Colombini also has a few promising former junior players and handles Andy Murray’s non-tour appearances, so one would be excused for not noticing he represented a young Latvian ranked in the mid-40s going into the French Open. But 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko’s upset triumph earlier this month has again brought the Italian Colombini, 49, into rarefied air.

  Everything came very, very fast. Not unexpected, because I always knew she had the potential to win a Grand Slam. I was not surprised she won a Grand Slam, but I was struck she won it at this young age. So obviously everything came very, very fast.

Ugo Colombini with French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and her coach, Anabel Medina Garrigues .

How did you sign Ostapenko? I signed her when she was 13, so I saw her in a junior event. As part of my business, I like to see the players with my own eyes. … When I saw her first, I saw obviously the technical capabilities because she was striking the ball extremely well, even at the age of 12, 13. … She knew exactly what to do. One thing about champions, when you see them apart from the technical side, they just have a different feel for the game.

Where did you see her play first? The European Masters 14 and under (near Naples, Italy). I really liked her right away and I started talking with the mom and her. And I was not the only one talking because I knew there were a couple of other big agencies that were looking to sign her, and I was lucky enough she picked me.

Why you? You should ask her. The mother told me she liked me as a person and she felt comfortable with me and I was at a small firm.

She has only two deals, Adidas and Wilson. Will more come? For the moment, we have started calling a couple of people, and hopefully we will go into some interesting conversations in weeks to come.

Will her home country, Latvia, limit her marketing appeal? Same thing with del Potro. I mean, don’t look much at her country, because once someone wins a Grand Slam, the way she won it at an early age in that fashion, you cannot really just say she is Latvian. She is a bit of fresh air to the WTA Tour. She is an inspiration, the way she fought.

What did she do after winning the trophy? We had a nice dinner among friends, family and coaches and team. Nothing crazy. She had a sip of a cocktail, which she normally doesn’t take, and then she asked me for some water after; she really didn’t like the alcohol.

                                                                                                                               — Daniel Kaplan