Can victorious Fognini step up to slam success?

 - Simon Cambers

Italian wins his biggest title in Monte Carlo

Fabio Fognini kisses the trophy at Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters 2019.©Chryslène Caillaud/FFT

It is 43 years since an Italian last won the men’s singles at Roland-Garros, when Adriano Panatta upset Bjorn Borg en route and then Harold Solomon to win the title.

After Fabio Fognini’s victory in the final of the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters on Sunday, could there be another on the podium in Paris this year?

Fognini’s 6-3, 6-4 win over Dusan Lajovic of Serbia in the final at the Monte Carlo Country Club gave Fognini his first Masters 1000 title, just a month short of his 32nd birthday. Good things come to those who wait.

“I feel great now“

Fognini’s talent has never been in doubt. Blessed with power, speed, athleticism and the purest of technique, the Italian has always been able to beat the best, as three wins over Rafael Nadal on clay would attest to. If his attitude and desire has been in question at times, his win in Monte Carlo, having taken out Nadal in the semi-finals, showed what he is capable of.

“I feel really great now, because…this is (my) home tournament, because I was born in San Remo, and I was practising here when I was young. I know really well this tennis club,” a delighted and exhausted Fognini said.

“For me it's special, of course, because parents and friends, I don't know how many tickets they get during the week, but I think… friends and family are happy now, because I have my name on this tournament that it's something that when I was really young I was dreaming for it.”

Fabio Fognini poses with his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters 2019 trophy and Prince Albert of Monaco©Chryslène Caillaud/FFT
A good prospect

Almost exactly the same age as Djokovic and Andy Murray and just a year younger than Nadal, Fognini was considered as good a prospect as any to make it to the very top.

But when Nadal, Djokovic and Murray emerged to accompany Roger Federer at the top of the game, Fognini was left behind, the suspicion being that he did not work quite as hard as the other three. After dismantling the game of Nadal on Saturday, he held his nerve in a match he was expected to win, beating Lajovic to win the biggest title of his career.

When good things come to players late in their careers, they taste all the better. Happily married to Flavia Pennetta, the former US Open winner, and having become a father last summer, it’s no surprise that a calmer Fognini is enjoying life on the court, his famous temper in check when necessary.

Perhaps he felt like he was playing with house money in Monte Carlo, having been within a point of going a set and 5-1 down to Russia’s Andrey Rublev in his first-round match.

The clay of Roland-Garros as the next goal?

The big question, though, is whether he can translate this success to grand slam level, in particular at Roland-Garros. In his entire career, Fognini has made it to the quarter-finals of a slam just once, hardly the kind of record that suggests he will be a contender when the second grand slam event of the year begins in Paris next month.

On the other hand, with Nadal looking under-cooked in Monte Carlo and Djokovic still short of consistency, maybe an unlikely contender will come through the ranks. Fognini’s lone quarter-final came in Paris in 2011 so if it is going to happen anywhere, then the clay of Roland-Garros would be the most likely place for it. Confidence will be high for the rest of the clay-court season but first of all, he needs to recover from the efforts of a week in which he finally hit the big time.

“I'm tired,” he said. “I mean, it's normal. End of the tournament. Winning my first 1000, so mentally now I'm tired but really, really happy. I just feel happy because I won a big tournament that was always my goal in my career.”

His talent has never been in doubt. Now it’s about whether he has the drive, determination and that bit of luck everyone needs to get over the line in the biggest events.