Novak's French renaissance gathers pace
The Italian, a quarter-finalist seven years ago, beat No.16 seed Kyle Edmund in five seesaw sets.
Good things come to those who wait. Fabio Fognini has taken a step beyond the third round at Roland-Garros for the first time since his 2011 quarter-final. On Court Suzanne-Lenglen he defeated the 16th seed Kyle Edmund 6-3 4-6 3-6 6-4 6-4 in a dogfight lasting three hours and 36 minutes. He must get past Marin Cilic or Steve Johnson if he is to repeat that quarter-final run of seven years ago.
It means not only that the 31-year-old Italian has snapped a run of five successive defeats to top-20 opposition in Grand Slams; but also that his nation has at least two players in the men’s fourth round for the first time since 1976. Fognini, for whom this match was a seventh appearance in the third round here, had no difficulty identifying the pivotal factor.
“Probably my experience,” he said. “Kyle has started the year really well, and he's improved his game a lot. He has the really big first serve and forehand. So I'm happy, because it was really tough match and we are almost the same level in the rankings. So was nice.”
On Court Suzanne-Lenglen, momentum repeatedly lurched from one player to the other, with each requiring an injury timeout, Fognini on his left ankle and Edmund on his left hip (what is it with Britain’s male players and their hips at the moment?). They weren’t alone – a gentleman in the crowd required medical intervention and was helped from the court early in the first set.
The longer the duel went on the more it see-sawed, and the more difficult it became to pinpoint correctly a crucial breakthrough in the moment that it happened. There was no telling which way the result would go, until Fognini broke Edmund’s serve in the last game of the match.
The Briton, who was bidding to break new career territory by reaching the last 16 here for the first time, was philosophical as he reflected on the progress he has made throughout this European clay swing.
“You can't expect to play Mach 10 all the time and hit the highs,” he sighed. “Some parts in this match I was pretty good and some parts today I gave away. I'm sure the points were close. And I had break points in the fifth, just couldn't get them.
“Overall I have had some good wins in the Masters, and it wasn't a bad tournament here, a couple of good wins and a tough loss against a quality player. So you have to say I have won more matches this year on the clay than I have before, and I'm improving.”
But for Fognini, the satisfaction was of course greater, not least because he joins compatriot Marco Cecchinato in the last 16.
“The reason why it’s happened?” he pondered, rubbing his beard. Then enlightenment came, and he said with a smile: “We play good and we won matches! That’s good for Italian tennis, no? Finally, finally we are here.”