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Stop looking for Fabio!

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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

ATP

Fernando Verdasco, Taylor Fritz, Hubert Hurkacz and Steve Johnson advance to the second round at Eastbourne

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Fernando Verdasco came back from one set down to beat unseeded Australian player John Millman 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-1 after 2 hours and 32 minutes at the Nature Valley International at Eastbourne. The Spanish veteran fended off 11 of the 12 break points he faced.

 

Millman went up a 7-6 (7-3) 4-2 lead in the second set and came just two service holds from winning the match, but Verdasco came back by winning 10 of the final 11 games to seal the win. Verdasco secured his spot in the second round, where he will face either wildcard Jay Clarke or Leonard Mayer.

Twenty-year-old Taylor Fritz broke four times to cruise past British qualifier and this year’s NCAA champion Paul Jubb 6-2 6-3 in one hour.

Fritz earned the first break in the second game after a smash error from Jubb, who broke straight back to draw level to 1-1. Fritz won the four final games from 2-2 with two breaks in the sixth and eighth games to close out the first set 6-2.

Fritz went up a break in the fourth game with a return winner. The young US player closed out the match with three service winners at 5-3.

Hubert Hurkacz beat 2018 Roland Garros semifinalist Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-4. The young Polish player sealed the first set 6-4 with one break in the ninth game and went up an early break at the start of the second set. Cecchinato broke back on his second break point chance in the sixth game to draw level to 3-3, but Hurkacz got another break in the ninth game to seal the second set 6-4.

Hurkacz will face 2016 Eastbourne champion Steve Johnson, who beat reigning New York champion Reilly Opelka 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 after 1 hour and 21 minutes. Hurkacz and Johnson are trained by the same coach Craig Boynton.

The first set went on serve without any break points, before Johnson claimed the tie-break 7-4 with a forehand crosscourt winner. Both players traded breaks in the fifth and sixth games in the second set. Johnson got his second break in the seventh game with a forehand winner and sealed the win with his third consecutive break at 5-3 with a forehand winner.

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Damir Dzumhur makes a winning start to his title defense in Antalya

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Damir Dzumhur made a winning start to his title defence by beating Australia’s Matthew Ebden 6-4 7-5 in their first head-to-head match after 1 hour and 22 minutes in the opening round of the third edition of the Turkish Airlines Open Antalya on grass.Dzumhur won just two more points and converted three of the seven break points.

 

Dzumhur broke once in the first game of the opening set and twice in the fifth and eleventh games of the second set.

The Bosnian player, who is bidding to win an ATP title for the third consecutive year, will take on Turkish wild card Altug Celibilek, who stunned Ernests Gulbis 6-3 4-6 6-4 after 1 hour and 53 minutes.

Celibilek converted his second break point chance in the fourth game to win the first set 6-3. The second set went on serve until the 10th game when Gulbis got his first break at deuce to win the second set 6-4 forcing the match to the third set. Celikbilek broke serve in the seventh game to take a 4-3 and saved two break points to hold his serve. The home player served out the match on his first match point.

Bernard Tomic came back from one set down to beat Andreas Seppi 4-6 6-4 6-4 setting up a second round match against Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk.

Tomic beat Seppi at Queen’s in 2010 and in Sydney in 2013, while the Italian took a 6-4 7-5 win earlier this year in Delray Beach.

Seppi got an early break at the start of the first set and held his next service games. The Italian player closed out the first set with an an ace after 46 minutes.

Tomic got his first break in the sixth game and held his service game to race out to a 5-2 lead. Seppi saved two set points before converting his sixth break point to claw his way back to 4-5. In the 10th game Tomic earned another break to seal the second set 6-4.

Seppi had to save three break points in the fourth and sixth games of the third set. Tomic sealed the win with a break on his first match point in the 10th game.

Next Gen player Ugo Humbert defeated Federico Delbonis 6-3 7-5 to score his sixth win at ATP Tour level. The French player will play against 19-year-old Next Gen Miomir Kecmanovic, who beat Jaume Munar on Sunday.

India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran knocked out Janko Tipsarevic 6-0 7-6 (8-6) to set up a second round against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego.

 

 

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Tomorrow’s Noventi Open Final

It’s David Goffin versus Roger Federer in the final in Halle.

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David Goffin (@ATP_Tour - Twitter)

By Cheryl Jones

Italian, Matteo Berrettini’s lucky streak on grass this season has finally come to an end at the Noventi Open in the first semi-final match today. Belgian, David Goffin came away with a well-deserved win, 7-6, 6-3. He will face Roger Federer tomorrow in the final. (Federer defeated Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3, 6-3 in the second semi-final.)

 

The scribe who writes the tournament winner on that familiar (at least to Federer) trophy likely has his tools at the ready, to quickly inscribe tomorrow’s winner’s name on the little brass plate. It could be the same old story, with Federer coming out on top. He has done it nine times before and the court may seem as if it’s a favourite playground. Tomorrow will reveal the end of this year’s tale that could likely see a “happily ever after” ending for Federer. He is turning 38 in a bit over a month and he seems to be a bit like that famous Energizer bunny that just keeps on ticking.

Berrettini managed to hold his serve in all fifty of his service games during his pursuit of the title in Stuttgart earlier this month. Even though the streak of service games had faltered during this past week in Halle, he faced Goffin today. It looked as if his string could begin again. The first set ended with a string of winning service games. But, Goffin followed suit and held his serve as well. Berrettini eventually lost the set in a nine-minute Tie-Break but moved into the second set with high hopes for a comeback that did not happen.

It was the eighth game of that second set when Goffin finally broke the Italian and even though Berrettini seemed a bit rattled, he carried on. The two players were evenly matched, trading games and holding their serves. There were a few exciting exchanges, but the back and forth verged on monotonous in its teeter-totter-like trade-offs.

After Berrettini was broken, the wind seemed to leave his sails and he must have felt that he was in the Doldrums – merely drifting, searching for a breeze to fill his sails once again. After a late in the match point that didn’t go his way, he sat on the court even though I didn’t see him fall. He rose with an edgy bit of energy followed by what seemed like an angry exchange with of all people – himself. He tossed his hat onto the offending court and retrieved it. The hat made its way back on his head, ala Lleyton Hewitt, with the rear-facing bill. From that point forward, he wasn’t in the game, at least mentally and Goffin defeated him 7-6, 6-3.

I came to a conclusion after that match that tennis players have a fairly universal “tell” when they are uptight during a match. It’s the ball bounce before a service. Novak Djokovic has a heightened case of the bouncing ailment. When he is really up tight, he often bounces the ball seven times, then stops and begins the bounce again so that the total is thirteen. Rafael Nadal has an erratic bouncing technique. He often exceeds twenty bounces before he introduces his serve. Both he and Djokovic have been called for time violations because of this seemingly innocuous habit that eats up the 25-second clock that is initiated by the umpire to ensure a match is conducted in a timely fashion. Berrettini didn’t surpass either of those two, but he did begin to add to his usual three or four bounces in both the first and second set. It was easy to see that he was uptight, even before the Belgian broke his serve in the second set. (It often seems that the most dangerous opponent is in one’s own head.)

After the match, Goffin said he was feeling great. He has a steady game that doesn’t seem to rise and fall with the score. Today he observed, “I’m playing well, more aggressive. I’m hitting the ball really well. So, it’s a great feeling this week to be in the final; my first final on grass in a 500.” And then he went on to say just how happy he was several more times. He seems like a steady guy. Not much is apt to raise his blood pressure. He is just a mellow fellow. Tomorrow, however, that may change, but I doubt it.

His best friend on the tour is Herbert. Federer’s victory over his friend was decisive. His own play today didn’t seem decisive, but more like a steady stream of answers to Berrettini’s offerings. He spoke of the weak backhand that the Italian displayed, and he also mentioned something that I noticed but didn’t ask about. Even though Goffin had some issues with his knee early on in the tournament it was apparent that Berrettini was favouring his right knee on many occasions. Goffin said, “I had to make him move and then come back to his backhand. The key was to stay focused because he was aggressive and try to counter him and make him run.”

When asked about his own knee, he claimed he had winced a few times, but then he had broken the Italian’s serve. With that, it was enough to carry on until he achieved what he set out to do. It was the win that was the reward for all of that hard work.

He spoke philosophically about the final. Even though Federer has a 7-1 win record over the Belgian, he said, “It is always special to play against Roger. You just try to play your best tennis and risk everything.” He should prepare for a risky day tomorrow. They will demonstrate their bundle of skills and their inimitable personalities will carry them through. The week of tennis will finish with a flourish no matter which of them wind up with their name on that massive trophy.

 

 

 

 

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