TENNIS – It isn’t every day that a player defeats a seeded opponent in under an hour only to find himself a mere footnote in the narrative. It happened to Nadal who coasted past Fognini 6-2, 6-2 as the Italian’s umpteenth meltdown against top opposition saw him shank his way to losing 11 of the match’s first 12 points. Edoardo Dalmonte
It isn’t every day that a player defeats a seeded opponent in under an hour to book his place in the quarter finals of a Masters tournament, only to find himself a mere footnote in the narrative.
It took Rafa Nadal the better part of an hour to coast past Fabio Fognini (6-2 6-2), as the Italian’s umpteenth meltdown against top opposition saw him shank his way to losing 11 of the match’s first 12 points, going 3-0 down within minutes and all but surrendering the set.
The whole encounter was nothing but a collection of horrendous shot selection, minor tantrums and embarrassing stat lines for the Italian No.1, who was unable to conquer a single point on Nadal’s serve in the first set. A severe disappointment for a player who had come close to defeating the current No. 2 last year in China, and who still has to get over the hump against top five opponents, against whom he has never won a match.
Yet there was worst to come: not only did the encounter offer few clues regarding Nadal’s current form (though he has won six sets out of six so far in Key Biscayne, his opponents so far have hardly played vintage tennis), but it also provided ammo aplenty to those looking to do a hatchet job on Fognini because of his character issues.
As the mental errors piled up for the Italian, the ether exploded with outrage: not only was Fabio reacting with far too much irritation at his mistakes, he was also being accused of mailing it in. Let that one sink in just a little: a pro athlete quitting on one of the most important tournaments of the season just because he kept on shanking shots. Not a frustrated tennis player who has been unable to keep a lid on the pressure that has accompanied him since an early age (a big chunk of it self-imposed) and is hugely peeved at his inability to master shots he could normally make with his eyes closes. Not at all: just a spoilt player with the gall to overreact to his own laziness.
There is little doubt that Fabio Fognini still needs to mature – who can forget how he was admonished by Mohamed Lahyani in his third round win over Bautista-Agut (“you know what you said”), or indeed his purposeful foot-foul last year in Cincinnati. What is peeving, however, is when these red flags are nonsensically conflated with a supposed lack of drive and, more importantly, results.
“The trouble with Fognini is that he has no manners. He is so rude. Of course he never wins anything”. These words weren’t uttered yesterday, mind you, but came after a similarly poor performance in the first set of last year’s third round tie against David Ferrer right here in Key Biscayne. Nor were they uttered by an inebriated fan, either, but by someone who supposedly earns a living covering sport.
Do nice guys truly win more? Is there a direct correlation between kindness and Slams won? Or is it just like one of Brad Pitt’s better quips in Moneyball, when he berates his scouts for mistaking certain attributes (size, good looks, even an affable personality) with evidence of talent (“It’s like we’re looking for Fabio!”)?. Just like your baseball player doesn’t need to be a halfway house between Hercules and Prince William in order to pitch a perfect game, so your perfect can fall short of perfection, easily win the “Prix Citron” (as numerous Grand Slam winners have, along with Marcelo Rios) and still fill his trophy cabinet.
It is perfectly acceptable to find the world No. 14 irritating –though a tad unrealistic considering how much these perfectionist players have dedicated to an imperfect sport, and how they react when things go wrong – but preposterous to assume that foul-mouthed, gesticulating players (McEnroe, anyone?) don’t win.
As it turns out, my colleague’s statement was far from prescient, as it prefaced a good second set performance by Fognini (who still fell 6-1 7-5), and what can be considered a rampage, at least by his standards: a semi-final in Montecarlo (a career-best Masters result) being followed by a brave loss to Nadal on Philippe Chatrier and climaxing in a near-hat trick of trophies in Stuttgart, Hamburg and Umag. Not bad for somebody presumably unable to keep up appearances at Downton Abbey (though Lord knows that would be smashing fun), or keep alive a partly mythologised vision of tennis as a gentlemen’s sport. Tennis would be so much more boring if all the nice guys took home the crown jewels all the time. I bet we’d be pining for the second coming of Marcelo Rios before long.
Moreover, Fognini’s worst outbursts (the foot fault, his verbal joust with an Argentine heckler, his recent warning) all came after his sudden ascent. Correlation, of course, does not imply causation: rather than being an obstacle, his anger turned out to be an admittedly unideal way of dealing with the increased pressure. Having slowed down last autumn, Fognini began 2014 with a career-best fourth round in Australia (where he’d only ever jumped the first hurdle once) and another fourth at the BNP Paribas Open, as well as a trophy at the Chile Open (the first Italian to win there) and a final in Buenos Aires.
Excessively tense ? Definitely. Worryingly happy to talk to himself at all times? Perhaps (his father attributed this to a paralyzing, yet not immediately apparent shyness). But by no means unusual, or for that doomed for fail. Maybe it is best if we appreciate a man who emerged first as a face-pulling, satanic-looking cult figure, and only afterwards as a potential giant killer. Who knows what awaits down the line…
By Edoardo Dalmonte
Stan Wawrinka edges Danil Medvedev in a five-set thriller to reach the quarter final at the Australian Open
Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka reached the quarter final at the Australian Open for the fifth time in his career with a 6-2 2-6 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 win over fourth seed and 2019 US Open finalist Danil Medvedev after 3 hours and 25 minutes. Wawrinka qualified for the last eight for the first time since 2017.
Wawrinka earned his first break in the fourth game, when Medvedev sent his backhand long. Wawrinka did not convert two more break points in the sixth game before breaking for the second time at love to close out the opening set 6-2 after 32 minutes. Wawrinka won 85% of his first serve points and hit 16 winners to 8 unforced errors in the opening set.
Medvedev broke in the third game of the second set to open up a 3-1 lead, when Wawrinka netted his forehand. The Russian player clinched the second set with three service winners at 5-2 to level the score.
Medvedev broke serve in the seventh game of the third set after a backhand error from Wawrinka and closed out the set with a service winner in the 10th game.
Wawrinka wasted a break point in the fourth game of the fourth set. Both players traded service holds en route to the tie-break. Wawrinka earned an immediate mini-break to open up a 3-0 lead in the tie-break. The former Australian Open champion hit a half-volley winner to cruise to a 5-2 lead and converted his first set point, when Medvedev netted a backhand in the ninth point.
Wawrinka broke Medvedev at 15 in the first game of the fifth set and saved three break points at 2-1. Wawrinka went up a double break in the seventh game and forced an error from Medvedev to wrap up the match, as he was serving for the win in the eighth game.
Wawrinka set up a quarter final against Alexander Zverev, who beat Andrey Rublev 6-4 6-4 6-4. Zverev beat Wawrinka twice in their two head-to-head matches in St. Petersburg 2016 and Miami 2017.
“That was an amazing match and an amazing atmosphere. It was really tough to play against Danil. It was really tough to play against Danil. I had to raise my level in the fourth and fifth sets. The level was super high and the atmosphere is something special here in Australia. I am finding solutions. I was losing a bit of confidence in the second and third sets, and was fighting against myself to play my game. I had to fight, stay positive and I am happy with the result”,said Wawrinka.
Thomas Musters Hints At Conflict With Thiem After Sudden Axe From Team
The unexpected move by Thiem has left more questions than answers.
Australian tennis legend Thomas Muster has seemingly suggested that a difference in opinion was behind his sudden departure from Dominic Thiem’s team after just two weeks.
On Saturday the world No.5 unexpectedly confirmed that the former French Open champion has left his team. Exactly 18 days after Thiem said during a press conference at the ATP Cup that the two have arranged a ‘working relationship.’ The announcement followed Thiem’s four-set win over Taylor Fritz in the third round of the Australian Open.
“We ended our working relationship,” He told Austrian reporters in Melbourne. “It did not fit. It’s easy like that. It is just about work. We get along well personally, and we said in the beginning, if anything is not all right we will tell each other.”
Questions are left remaining about what the exact reason for the two to go their separate ways. Especially given their short period spent working together. Both have been coy on the subject, but Muster has shed some light during an interview with Eurosport.
Speaking with fellow former world No.1 Becker, Muster said he was initially expecting to be working with Thiem for a two-year period. Adding to the mystery, the 52-year-old fuelled further speculation when he gave a cryptic insight about the two-time French Open finalist. Who had previously said that his career was to emulate and surpass Muster’s career achievements.
“To be honest, I have seen myself in this role for the next two years.” He told Becker.
“Why he chose differently…l I know why, but I don’t want to say the details.’
“It’s like this. There are houses which look nice from the outside, wonderfully from the outside, but you rarely know who lives inside.”
Speaking about Thiem’s performance on the court, Muster believes there are still areas of his game that requires further improvement. Last year the 26-year-old won five titles on the ATP Tour, including his first at Masters level. Something that was only matched by Novak Djokovic.
“He’s a fine guy and likes to learn a lot,” he told Eurosport.
“But he has also got some shortcomings, he has to work on if he wants to be at the top. He has improved a lot, but he to catch up in the technical, physical and foremost in the mental area.”
Muster isn’t the only former professional with a view that Thiem needs to improve. Mats Wilander recently called on the tennis star to improve his attitude on the court.
Thiem will play fifth seed Gael Monfils in the fourth round of the French Open on Monday.
Injury-Stricken Juan Martin Del Potro Suffers New Blow And An Uncertain Future
There is more bad news for fans of the former world No.3 and his hopes of a return to tennis.
Hopes of Juan Martin del Potro returning to the tour in the coming weeks have ended after it was announced that he will undergo further surgery on Monday.
The former US Open champion hasn’t played a competitive match since June after fracturing his right kneecap at the Fever-Tree Championships in London. The same one he also hurt towards the end of the 2018 season. Shortly after his mishap the Argentine underwent surgery in Barcelona in an attempt to fix the issue and have been undergoing rehabilitation ever since.
Unfortunately for the former top-five player, the surgery hasn’t been a success with him continuing to have pain in the region. In an official press release published on Sunday, it was confirmed that the issue is affecting the Argentine in everyday tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs. As a consequence, Del Potro will have yet another operation on his knee in Miami.
“We want to update you that after long weeks of inter consultations in Argentina, Europe and the United States, most doctors have come to the conclusion that a new intervention in the right knee of Juan Martin del Potro is necessary.” A statement reads.
“After analyzing the options, Delpo trusted Dr. Lee Kaplan to perform the surgery scheduled for Monday, January 27th in Miami.”
“We hope that this is the definitive solution to eliminate the pain that not only has prevented Delpo from playing tennis, but also making it difficult for him to perform daily activities.”
Speculation over the future intentions of the 31-year-old started earlier this week when he withdrew from the Delray Beach Open. The tournament were where he was set to make his comeback next month.
During his rehabilitation, Del Potro has sought various treatments. Including types of diets, training and trips to specialists. All of which failed to deliver the desired outcome and forced him to undergo surgery.
“Thank you for your patience and for understanding that these past weeks we have taken our time before communicating his next steps. The situation is never easy when it comes to the physique of an athlete and, more importantly, the health of a person.” Team del Potro said.
The latest revelation has cast concerns over Del Potro’s future career. Who at one stage said he was unsure if he would be able to continue playing due to his knee injury (prior to his first surgery). It is the latest setback for the injury-stricken player who have also been forced to undergo four wrist surgeries.
So far in his career, Del Potro has won 22 ATP titles and has been ranked as high as third in the world last year.
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