When Italians think of homegrown tennis stars, they probably do not first think of Fabio Fognini. Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta became the darlings of Italian tennis by winning Grand Slam titles. Andreas Seppi was a fan favourite for his unwavering tenacity.
But Fognini was always that distant fourth in terms of respect and admiration amongst Italian citizens. A clay-court specialist, the pesky Fabio always possessed a streaky personality, explaining why he could never break into the top 10. After reaching a career-high 13th in the world in 2014, he was never able to make it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament. He was also suspended and fined $96,000 for verbally abusing an umpire at the US Open, casting doubt on his temperament.
A successful 2018 season has got the tennis world buzzing about Fognini. Stunning Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the Los Cabos Open gave Fabio his third ATP title this season, only one behind the World #1 Rafael Nadal. So is it finally time that the tennis pundits give credit to Fognini for being a quality tennis player? I say yes.
Fognini Displays Glimpses of Greatness
There is no doubt that Fabio Fognini was pegged at a young age as a player to watch out for to have success in the future. But unfortunately for the Italian, he grew up in an era that consisted of four future Hall of Fame players in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who share a grand total of 53 Grand Slam titles.
Early on in his career, Fognini established himself as a clay court player. Five of his eight singles titles are at clay court tournaments, most notably Stuttgart and Hamburg. In 2011, his big groundstroke, baseline game earned him a spot into the quarterfinals of the French Open, the only time he has ever reached the second week of a major championship.
Arguably Fognini’s greatest victory on the ATP Tour was at the 2015 US Open, where he upset Rafael Nadal in the first round of the tournament. In that match, Nadal was up two sets to love and in 151 previous Grand Slam matches, he has never given up a commanding 2-0 set lead. But Fognini displayed his full arsenal of weapons, firing 70 winners to come back and win the match in five sets.
“I sent him packing more times making him unhappy,” Fognini recalls of this epic match and beating Nadal twice on clay in 2015.
Fognini Establishes Consistency with Successful 2018 Season
The knock on Fognini throughout his entire career has been that he has not been able to get the job done and win a Grand Slam singles title. Partially this is because of the domination of the Big Four, who were not eager to give up their spots as the game’s best. But a large part was Fognini’s temperament, which was known to get the best of him in the worst way possible. He has been notorious for flying off the handle on occasion, including the most notable time during the 2017 US Open at a chair umpire that got him suspended and fined.
But in the 2018 season, it is clear that Fognini has demonstrated calmness under pressure and has been able to overcome the adversity to have a terrific season. In March, he captured the Brazil Open, beating Nicolas Jarry in three sets 1-6, 6-1, 6-4. At the Swedish Open in July, Fognini once again endured a three-set battle, defeating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. The Italian’s season was highlighted by his straight set victory over Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-2, where he won 12 of the last 15 games to secure his third title of the season. The most important part of this title, though, is that it was the Italian’s first career title not on a clay court. His talent was evident on clay before. Now he’s showing it on hard courts too.
Fognini has already made history for Italy in his career. In 2015, Fabio and his doubles partner Simone Bolleli were the first Italian pair to win a Grand Slam by winning the Australian Open. Now, with the end of the season fast approaching including the US Open, Fognini has a tremendous opportunity to build on his success and garner the respect he rightfully deserves across the tennis world.