by Saqib Ali
Fabio unloads his trademark down the line backhand and the crowd erupts on court 1. It is early stages in the second set of his contest against talented Frenchman Jermey Chardy. The conditions are hot with some wind and Fabio does his usual casual stroll. He walk is the very opposite of Agassi’s fast pigeon toe walk. Coach Davin applauds as he is surrounded by a big group of friends in Fabio’s box. There is no one who plays and walks like Fognini, no one! Along with Kyrgios and Safin, he is a player who is writing his tennis chapters in a very different ink. The effortlessness of his ground stokes is a treat to watch and the almost no care attitude is even more intriguing.
I first saw Fognini live seven years ago at the old grandstand in US open vs Fernando Verdasco. I had no idea of his talent as had only read his name on the scoring app and websites. He captivated that crowd with some brilliant shot making as he took a two set lead over then then seeded Verdasco. I did not finish that match as my friends wanted to catch a glimpse of another sublime player David Nalbandian, whose match had just started on an outside court. We left but took notice of the unique ball striking talent of Fognini. Verdasco came back to win that match in five but Fognini had arrived on our radar. He is temperamental like most gifted players(not all) and has always failed with consistency in results. But even in losses he delights the fans with great stuff. There is never a dull moment in a Fognini match. His between the points strolling is so slow and yet during a point he is so quick on his feet.
If you have not watched Fabio Fognini in person live at a tennis event then please add it to your tennis wish list purely for his amazingly light footwork. He is as effortless as they come and he is probably top 4 in my opinion in changing the direction of the ball from neutral or difficult positions on the baseline, the other three being Djokovic, Federer and Nishikori. While I followed the Fognini progress on the tour most of the time but even I was not sure if he has another gear in terms of desire to get better. Like most extremely gifted players I thought he was content wiht his game and will not invite change to get better. And dead wrong I was! When the news came out of him bringing Franco Davin as his coach I was pleasantly surprised. I wanted to see how this partnership would shape up. Does Fognini have the commitment to propel his career to the next level? Going by his results in Miami it sure looks like. These are still early days but Fognini is about to play his first masters 1000 quarterfinals in North America.
I had the opportunity to speak with him during his post-match interview. He was constantly moving there as well and gave some heartfelt answers on his partnership with Davin. He admitted playing Chardy was a very tough win and looked forward to the challenge of playing Donald Young, whom he had not beaten in two attempts he pointed out himself. It will be a very interesting encounter as this match has all the ranking points at stake which may help Fognini to be seeded just in time for the French Open. Nishikori will be the slight favorite when they play their match at Crandon park today, but we know one thing for sure Fognini will not hold back on his free flowing tennis and will give the crowd some magic moments on the way. And grit is something he showed in dispatching his coach’s nation out of Davis cup in February when he came back to beat the Argentine Guido Pella in five sets. Fognini’s talent was always there but a well coached Fognini with determination and desire could be totally something very different!