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Fabio Fognini preaches an Easter sermon on transformation

Matt Zemek

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

Ask a priest or minister. Ask a theologian. What would they tell you if you asked about the meaning of Easter? The word “transformation” would enter the conversation at some point. Fabio Fognini is part of this story in a tennis-specific sense.

Fognini has indeed transformed his identity and the way he will be remembered. The question, though, is “How much?” That’s the point of debate and conversation after Fognini, one month short of turning 32 years old, won his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo on Easter Sunday, defeating Dusan Lajovic in straight sets.

I won’t take you too deeply into a theological thicket here, but very simply, Easter is rooted in this notion of transformation. It isn’t merely coming back to life after having previously died. Easter celebrates NEW life, a different kind of life, a life which has passed through death and is stronger yet more serene and lasting. It is not the life we once knew. This is a feast of the newness of life and how something new can be created from what was old, or scarred, or painful.

This isn’t merely about growing back (though it is); Easter is a feast of growing MORE, continuing to evolve and transform into our best selves, better than what we were before.

This image and notion of transformation is evident in what Fabio Fognini has done, but now we will wonder just how much this transformation means. It is worth delving into this conversation — not in a massive 3,000-word exploration, but in a piece long enough to give you a sense of the tension points involved.

First, even the harshest Fognini critics over the years — such as myself — have to admit that Fognini has gained a substantial transformative boost to his legacy. With just one Masters title, Fognini has taken a step the Philipp Kohlschreibers and Richard Gasquets of the world haven’t yet taken. This matters — it matters a lot.

We can see that, even if we acknowledge the many failures and flaws in Fognini’s portfolio of results over the years.

Obviously, though, the other side of the debate has to be taken into consideration. A career’s larger patterns and directions have to be acknowledged. Championships — trophies — do rewrite the story of tennis or any other sport, but something also has to be said for consistency.

Consider David Ferrer. Fognini and Ferrer are now tied with one Masters title apiece, but Ferrer has made six more Masters finals (7-1), 15 more Masters semifinals (18-3), and 40 more Masters quarterfinals (45-5).

Let’s say Fognini wins a second Masters title in the future to take a 2-1 lead in Masters trophies. Would that advantage in Masters titles make Fognini’s career better than Ferrer’s? No. One would need to reach (or come close to reaching) Stan Wawrinka’s body of work to find an example of a career which clearly surpassed Ferrer’s, despite a comparative lack of 12-months-a-year consistency and reliability. Stan is the example Fabio would need to approach and replicate if he wanted to forge a career objectively better than Ferrer.

One Masters title transforms a lot, but it doesn’t transform everything.

A few concluding remarks which should not be controversial to anyone:

Safe statement No. 1: We who analyze and comment on tennis will all respect Fognini even more if he can win a second Masters title. Taking that one extra step would mean he would not be a one-hit wonder. Going from one-hit wonder to two-time champion is an enormous transformative step, almost as transformative as the step from never a Masters champion to first-time champion.

Safe statement No. 2: Beyond the question of whether Fognini wins a second Masters title, the biggest thing he can do for his career is to find a higher floor of dependability. He reached his high ceiling in Monte Carlo this week. Can he now raise the floor to the point where he is making major quarterfinals and Masters semifinals — if not all the time, at least half or one-third of the time? His game is certainly capable of it. His mind — which finally ceased to be his enemy this past week at the Monte Carlo Country Club — must remain unlocked and liberated.

Safe statement No. 3: Let’s say Fabio does remain a one-hit wonder and does not replicate what he pulled off this past week. Even then, it remains that a single championship is better than never having won one at all.

We remember Samantha Stosur differently because she won the 2011 U.S. Open.

We remember Andres Gomez differently because he won the 1990 French Open.

We also remember someone close to Fabio Fognini in a different way because of what she did at the 2015 U.S. Open. I am referring, of course, to Fognini’s wife, Flavia Pennetta.

“One-hit wonder” can be used in a pejorative term, but ask any rock band: Would it have been better NOT to have had that one smash hit which conferred musical immortality upon you? Of course not.

It is the same with any tennis player.

Transformation has its limits, but on this Easter Sunday, any degree of positive transformative power should be welcomed.

That’s a sermon conveyed to us through the human body and the sport of tennis.

Very Catholic and very sacramental, if I may say so.

Corpus Christi, Corpus Fognini.

That body of work just became more impressive — transformed, verily.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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