The prospect of Andy Murray coming up against one of the most combustible men on the ATP tour in the next round loomed large at one point, when Italy’s Fabio Fognini, the 16th seed, led 20th seed Kevin Anderson by two sets to one – and one warning to love.
Anderson, one of the tallest players around at 6ft 7in, had also required two long periods of treatment on his back. He recovered to come through 4-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.
Fognini, with his bandana, shock of black hair and beard, looks from a distance like a taller and much slimmer Diego Maradona. He picked up an official rebuke for racket abuse after Anderson drew level at the end of the second set. That was mild, however, compared to Fognini’s first-round match on Monday, when he was fined a record total of $27,500 (£16,150) and deducted a penalty point against American qualifier Alex Kuznetsov.
His fines then were $20,000 for hurling his racket to the grass and $7,500 for abusing an official and an obscene gesture at Kuznetsov. At Wimbledon last year, $10,000 of the Italian’s winnings disappeared. At this year’s Australian Open he received code violations and in the French Open there was a fine of $3,500 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“I’ll always be the same,” he admitted, but behind all the tantrums, Fognini has talent. Murray is well aware of it after their Davis Cup meeting in the fervour of Naples in April. Great Britain appeared to be on their way to victory over Italy until Fognini drubbed the Scot in straight sets.
Now, however, it is the lanky man from Johannesburg who could present a hurdle – a high hurdle – to the defending champion. As surprised as his opponent to be stuck out on Court 17, where the crowds were six deep and the players allowed only one pass each, Anderson found it “a crazy match of ups and downs against a very tricky opponent”.
The downs included his back problem, which he felt was exacerbated by nerves and tension, but will be fine by Monday. “It was a little stiff and affected my serve,” he said, “and the more nervous I got the more I felt it. But it’s nothing to worry about. I was able to play five sets and it felt much better towards the end.”
By that stage Fognini was wilting and the final set was no contest. Anderson revealed that the Italian’s unorthodox approach even extended to not being bothered who served when he won the toss. Allowing Anderson to serve first may have been a mistake since from such a height and with a speed of up to 132mph, it is a heavy weapon; he is high up on the list of most aces this tournament with 63 in three matches.
Reluctantly drawn into looking ahead to a Murray meet, Anderson said: “It will be a great experience for me. It’s why I play this game, to play greats, and at such a big tournament. There will be a few challenges. I think the biggest will be staying calm. Really it’s about me focusing on my game. If I do that and do it very well, I might have a few chances here and there.”
Fiery Fognini: Fabio’s faults
World No 15 Fabio Fognini has often attracted headlines for the wrong reasons:
Wimbledon 2013 Fined £6,000 for damaging the grass surface with his racket.
US Open 2013 Given warning for audible obscenity.
Australian Open 2014 Handed code violation warning for another obscenity.
French Open 2014 Fined £2,000 for racket abuse and unsportsmanlike behaviour.
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