Fabio Fognini has finally collected a title which does credit to a talent which has been evident over the years, but which has been often betrayed by the Italian’s inability to retain his focus, keep a cool temper and maintain a positive attitude.
This is something just incredible, I'm really tired now, I've been running all week Fabio Fognini
Now, aged 31, he has joined the list of great players who have lifted the Monte Carlo titles which is the leading clay-court Masters 1000 event of the European clay court season, ending with the French Open at the end of May.
Foginini defeated Dusan Lajovic, the Serbian qualifier 6-3 6-4 to become the first Italian to triumph at the clay court showpiece in over half a century.
The great Nicola Pietrangeli, who watched Fognini’s achievement from the Royal Box at the Monte Carlo Country Club, won the title in 1961, 1967 and 1968 as well as the French Open on two separate occasions.
To mark the occasion the 85-year-old Pietrangeli joined Fognini on court after the presentation ceremony to pose for historic pictures of the two champions together.
The 13th seed, who is based just 20 kilometres down the road in San Remo, was delighted that he could follow up his shock-semi-final victory 24-hours earlier, of the defending and 11-time champion Rafa Nadal, declaring he hoped he would recover in time for the final.
“I was born nearby so this is extraordinary,” the ecstatic Fognini said. “I started the season rather badly, so this is unbelievable. I’m very content with this victory, especially with all of the Italians here today.”
His opponent, the 48th-ranked Lajovic, who was playing in the first ATP final of his career, had reached the final without dropping a set and was far from crushed by the defeat.
“It was my first time in the finals, so a great experience for me. Today was not easy, there was a lot of wind,” the 28-year-old said. “Fabio is a guy who knows how to play in these conditions. He has great hands and he’s moving really well.”
Fognini had arrived at the Principality with a 0-4 record on clay which didn’t augur well for the week ahead. And he struggled through his opening round against Andrey Rublev recovering from a set and 4-1 down for his victory and in the process set a positive tone for the tournament.
The final started evenly enough with Fognini taking a 4-2 lead following a forehand error from Lajovic. The Italian then held his serve with a typically flamboyant one-handed, cross-court backhand to take control.
Serving for the set, Fognini saved a break point with a forehand winner down the line, and then clinched it after 44-minutes with an equally good backhand.
Fognini looked to have suffered some small strain in the second set but broke for a 3-2 lead before calling for a medical time-out to have his right thigh and heel taped.
He showed no effects from his injury on his return to the court and finished off the final on his second match point moving with relative ease to seal what had been an incredible week for him, including wins over world No.3 Alexander Zverev (7-6 6-1), and that stunning 6-4 6-2 victory over Nadal to end the Spanish star’s 25-set win streak in the Principality.
“This is something just incredible,” admitted Fognini, the lowest seeded player to win the title since Gustafo Kuerten in 1999. “I’m really tired now, I’ve been running all week. I prepared for this final as best I could, I knew it would be tough, since Dusan has my ex-coach (Jose Perlas)!
He concluded proudly: “This is a great achievement — it’s tough to beat Rafa and then play a final.”
Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay court event since Nadal’s first of his record 11 triumphs in 2005. Djokovic had won twice, while Stan Wawrinka secured his in 2014.