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
Alexander Zverev Secures Place In ATP Finals With Indian Wells Win
Zverev will be seeking to win the season-ending extravaganza for the second time in his career.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev has become the fourth player to officially qualify for the ATP Finals after reaching the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The world No.4 defeated America’s Jenson Brooksby 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in his second round match on Sunday which pushed him over the points threshold to secure his spot in the end-of-season event. It is the fifth year in a row he has qualified for the ATP Finals which he won back in 2018. He is one of only three German players to ever win the title after Boris Becker and Michael Stich.
This year’s tournament will take place in Turin, Italy for the first time in history after being held at The O2 Arena in London for more than a decade. Only the eight highest ranked players are eligible to play in the round-robin tournament which has on offer up to 1500 rankings points for an undefeated champion.
“My first time in Turin. I’ve been to London four times before. London is obviously very special to me because I won there, as well. I think the stadium is incredible, one of the most special events that we had,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.
“But I also love playing in Italy. I had great success in Italy. I won my first Masters in Rome. I’m looking forward to being there. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Italian fans. It’s going to be a great week.”
The 24-year-old approaches the final quarter of this season with four titles already won this year. He has won two Masters 1000 trophies, an ATP 500 event in Mexico and a gold medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Zverev, who has recorded seven wins over top 10 players, also reached the semi-finals at both the French Open and US Open.
Zverev joins Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the players who have qualified for the ATP Finals so far. It is the third straight season the quartet has qualified for the event.
This year’s ATP Finals will get underway on November 14th. Medvedev is the defending champion.
Denis Shapovalov Advances After Pospisil Retires In Indian Wells
The battle of the two Canadians didn’t go as planned…
Vasek Pospisil faced off against his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and it was the world number 13 who got the win after the Vernon native pulled out due to an injury whilst trailing 0-3.
It was a rough start for Pospisil who seemed to struggle with his serve in the opening game of the match and double-faulted twice in a row to give the early break and Shapovalov had no issues consolidating the break.
Shapovalov continued to apply pressure on the Pospisil serve and after saving two breakpoints the world number 68 pulled up after a serve and stopped play, calling for the trainer. He ended up taking a medical timeout off the court and a couple of minutes later returned to court. Pospisil was broken once again and the following game after a couple of returns decided to call it quits.
” It was pretty awful…and if I’m being honest I am shaking a bit…It really sucks I hope it’s nothing serious…He’s a great guy he’s a real warrior he’s fought back from some injuries surgeries to such a great level.” Shapovalov said of his compatriot.
Shapovalov will face 19th seed Aslan Karatsev in the next round after the Russian thrashed Salvatore Caruso 6-2, 6-0.
In the other results of the day sixth seeed Casper Ruud dominated Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2, Roberto Bautista Agut beat the Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-3 and Sebastien Korda won an all American battle with Frances Tiafoe 6-0, 6-4.
Finally, Diego Schwartzman needed three sets to beat another American in Maxime Cressy winning 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Stefanos Tsitsipas Sidesteps Question Over Vaccination Status
The Greek also jokes that he will be having less bathroom breaks in Indian Wells due to one particular reason.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has declined to confirm if he has received a COVID-19 vaccination despite previously saying he planned to do so later this year.
The world No.3 was questioned about the vaccination during his pre-tournament press conference at Indian Wells on Wednesday. Earlier this year Tsitsipas came under fire after saying he doesn’t see a reason why somebody his age needs to be vaccinated and expressed concerns over the potential side effects. He also added that young people catching COVID-19 is a good thing as it helps build up their immunity. Prompting criticism from various people, including a spokesperson for the Greek government.
However, in recent weeks Tsitsipas has changed his stance on the issue and recently told Antenna TV that he will have his first dose by the end of this year. When asked by a reporter in Indian Wells if he has had it yet, the French Open finalist declined to answer.
“I’m sorry but I’m not able to provide any of my medical records,” he said.
Player vaccination rates in tennis are becoming a growing issue amid reports that the Australian Open may only allow fully vaccinated players to participate due to a health mandate which has been implemented by the local government. There is yet to be a formal announcement by Tennis Australia regarding their entry requirements. However, The Age newspaper reports that there is a ‘strong likelihood’ that only vaccinated players will be allowed entry by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
Tsitsipas’ immediate focus is on this week’s BNP Paribas Open where he is the second seed behind Daniil Medvedev. Speaking about the conditions, the 23-year-old joked it was ‘very dry’ and therefore he will be having less bathroom breaks during matches. Referring to the recent criticism he has received from some of his peers over the timing of breaks he takes.
“It’s very dry here,” Tsitsipas said.
“That is good for me because I sweat less, which makes for less bathroom breaks, which makes for less complaints. So a very good sign so far,” he added with a smile.
The hope for Tsitsipas is that he will be able to build on his recent experience at the Laver Cup where he helped Europe secure their fourth consecutive title. The event provides players with the opportunity to work alongside each other in a team format. Something Tsitsipas relished but he is ready to get back to singles duty.
“I think team competitions are necessary for our sport and we don’t get to be united a lot,” he said. “We always kind of focus on ourselves and our things and environment and that is what you usually see on Tour. Players doing their own thing. Not much socialising.
“At the Laver Cup, we all get to have dinners together and all get to hang out with each other. Of course, though, we all have our competitiveness and if we get stuck around we might share too much with one another, that is the mentality behind it.”
Tsitsipas is yet to win a main draw match in Indian Wells. He will start his 2021 bid against either qualifier Roberto Marcora or Spain’s Pedro Martinez.
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