Panatta’s father worked at the Pariolo Tennis Club in Rome, which is where the young Adriano learned to play on the clay courts there. After a successful junior career, he won professional tournaments at Bournemouth, Florence, Kitzbuhel and Stockholm, before embarking on his golden year of 1976.
This was the summit of his success when he won the French Open, defeating Harold Solomon in the final 6–1, 6–4, 4–6, 7–6, and also his home tournament, the Italian Open, beating Guillermo Vilas in the final 2–6, 7–6, 6–2, 7–6. He had to save 11 match points in his first round match against Australian Kim Warwick in the event. He completed 1976 by helping Italy capture its first-ever Davis Cup title, winning two singles and a doubles in the final against Chile. That year he reached his best ever singles ranking of world No.4.
Remarkably Panatta is the only man to have beaten Bjorn Borg at the French Open, which he did twice – in the fourth round in 1973 and in the quarter-finals in 1976.
In 1977, Panatta won the WCT tournament in Houston, where he managed to defeat Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis. He followed this up with another title in Tokyo in 1978.
He was an entertaining and successful doubles player, winning 17 championships in his career, 12 with fellow Italian Paolo Bertolucci, four with Laureus World Sports Academy Member Ilie Nastase and one with Corrado Barazzutti.