Photo Credit: “Fabio Fognini” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Carine06
World number 18 Fabio Fognini stunned tennis fans this week, after he won his maiden Masters title on the clay courts of Monte Carlo.
The week was full of unexpected results, but none more than Saturday’s semi-final between Fognini and 11-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal. As the clay court season kicked off, very few would have looked past Nadal making it 12 titles at the prestigious event.
If someone was going to be considered to stop him, names such as Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem would be thrown up in the air. Certainly not the 31-year-old man from Sanremo.
Nadal had found himself 4-1 and a double break down in the first set of his quarter-final match vs Argentina’s Guido Pella, but impressively fought back to win 7-6(1) 6-1.
Whether this put doubt in his mind or not is unknown, but Nadal described the 4-6 2-6 thumping at the hands of Fognini as one of the worst matches he has played on clay. “When that happens, you have to lose. And today I deserved to lose because I played against a player who was better than me today,” said the Spaniard.
Fognini actually struggled to get through his first round match. World number 90 Russian Andrey Rublev took the first set of the Italian, forcing him to show resilience early on, fighting back to win the match 4-6 7-5 6-4.
A walkover victory against Gilles Simon saw Fognini safely into the last 16, before facing the rather out of form world number three Zverev. Despite beating impressive 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, Zverev continued his disappointing start to the year losing in straight sets to Fognini.
A tough three set quarter-final against Croatian youngster Borna Coric was arguably Fognini’s most gritty performance of the week. This led into the surprisingly effortless performance against a disappointing Nadal.
The other side of the draw was not short of shocks either. In the third round world-number 48 Dusan Lajovic beat Indian Wells champion and last year’s French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem in straight sets. This was after he had breezed past former ATP World Tour Finals runner-up David Goffin of Belgium.
Despite Nadal being the favourite to win, due to rankings the draw was topped by Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic.
The Serb, however, was out-performed in the quarter finals against impressive youngster Daniil Medvedev of Russia, ranked 14th in the world.
Djokovic had rather limped through his first match against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who had upset him in the at Indian Wells just a month anymore. A more comfortable win against America’s young Taylor Fritz showed positive signs for the world number one.
Medvedev however had looked a strong force on the clay. He breezed through his first two matches just dropping 5 games on total at the expense of Joao Sousa and Radu Albot.
One of the matches of the week saw a topsy-turvy affair between him and fellow young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Russian battled to a 6-2 1-6 6-4 victory, though his Greek opponent will be frustrated at missed opportunities in the third set.
Following this Medvedev faced Djokovic in the quarter-final. Another close three set affair saw the Russian gain his first ever win against the Serbian.
”It’s tough to find rhythm and he doesn’t give you much rhythm,” said Djokovic after the match, referring to Medvedev who is tipped to go far in the sport over the next few years.
Medvedev then faced another Serbian in the semi-final in Lajovic. The two tough affairs of the days before may have hindered the Russian however, as the 28-year-old from Belgrade cruised to 7-5 6-1 win.
The charismatic Italian Fognini, then, faced another unlikely suspect in the final, in Lajovic of Serbia.
With Sunday’s final between two surprise candidates, the crowd at Monte Carlo looked forward to seeing a first Masters crown for one of Fognini or Lajovic. The Nadal conqueror would be the one to succeed.
With some very athletic and intense rallies early on Lajovic found himself with an early break of serve in the first set. Fognini was however able to get back level at the first time of asking. The Italian then sailed to a 6-3 victory to put one hand onto the trophy.
A flawless Fognini then broke Lajovic in the first game of the second set. The world number 48 did mount an admirable comeback attempt though, only to fall back behind straight away. At 5-4 down he scuffed a return of Fognini’s serve giving Fabio his maiden Masters final win.
“I’m really really happy. Nothing to say,” said the champion. “I just feel happy because I won a big tournament that was always my goal in my career.”
The week was a fascinating one, which raises many questions about the rest of the clay court season. Whilst Nadal is still a clear favourite to win the French Open, this week has shown his weaknesses. And with Djokovic not quite at his best since the Australian Open, could we see some new clay court kings arise win titles over the next few months?
Written by Michael Gillett (@MichaelBGJourno)