Fabio Fognini: A Perplexing Study In Nonchalance

Fabio Fognini. What a great name, very Italian. It tumbles easily off the tongue and is phonetically agreeable to the ear. The name has flair as does the guy who owns that moniker.

Fognini is currently the no. 2 ranked Italian male on the professional tennis circuit and the 47th highest ranked male on the planet. Obviously he’s a very good player.

He came to my attention in 2011. Saw several of his matches on television. It was abundantly clear that the man had serious skills.

He displayed a penchant for controlling points from the middle of the baseline while minimizing his own lateral movement which created an illusion of him expending very little energy. But when necessary, he became surprisingly quick, agile, and amazingly fast.

Fognini is also a very clean ball striker with compact, efficient, accurate strokes. He reads the ball well and is adept at making rapid adjustments that facilitate his economy of movement.

He’s all of these superlatives and more packed into a solidly sculpted 5′ 10″ frame.

He hits the ball far bigger than his size.

In addition to his ample tennis skills, Fognini has the good looks of the quintessential handsome hero character in some imaginative female author’s steamy romance novel.

I saw him live this summer at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. His first-round opponent was German pro, Florian Mayer. The first set was in progress as I took my seat.

It was instantly apparent that a large number of lovely women were in attendance while only a smattering of guys. The ladies seemed in a state of doe-eyed rapture as they watched Fognini go about his business because he wasn’t just playing a match, he was playing the girls too.

Though he seemed oblivious, I’m convinced he knew he had a captive mostly feminine audience. He just did little things that caused women to dawn crooked little smiles on slightly tilted attentive heads, you know, the look that says, “God he is just soooo cute!”

After a particularly grueling exchange in which he lost the point, he looked towards his box, shrugged his shoulders and uttered something to them in Italian complete with gesticulations. The girls loved it.

One woman in front of me, a total stranger, turned completely around and began talking to me about him. Her eyes were all dreamy and stuff. I listened and nodded approval for whatever she had to say. Clearly, she was hooked.

What I found even more fascinating than Fognini’s effect on the opposite gender was his seeming lack of interest in the match, a match it appeared as though he could win if he wanted to.

He routinely won protracted rallies with some dazzling shot after which he would casually stroll (as though he could perform that particular miracle shot anytime he desired) to the other side to begin another point. It was quite a show of cavalier nonchalance.

If he lost any such point, the stroll became even more casual. He’d mutter some Italian to himself and look as though he couldn’t possibly care any less.

My new friend turned and dreamily said, “You know, he could win if he wanted to.” I smiled and nodded affirmatively. Problem was, he wasn’t winning. What’s more, he didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass.

That puzzled me, especially since occasionally he appeared about to swing match momentum favorably towards himself. But then, inexplicably, he’d miss a crucial shot by the slimmest of margins, look towards his box or heavenward, mutter some beautiful Italian words which brought about silly expressions of delight from the legion of bedazzled women, and then saunter disinterestedly towards his chair having lost the game.

It was puzzling but strangely interesting.

He lost the match but I swear I think he shoulda/coulda/woulda won if only he’d wanted to.

I make that statement from the perspective of an non-smitten male. The guy can play seriously good ball. It took Andy Roddick four tough sets to get by him in the third round of the US Open.

But that one fundamental problem often seems to sabotage his play–he’s passionately dispassionate, or so it seems.

Most recently, Fogini must have wanted to win some matches because he reached the finals of the St. Petersburg Open in St. Petersburgh, Russia. He lost in straights to the up-and-coming Martin Klizan. Klizan defeated both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy in the US Open.

I tentatively felt that Fogini could give the red-hot Klizan a run for his money. I was wrong. Klizan won, 6-2, 6-3, to clinch his first ATP title.

As in Cincinnati, Fognini played lackadaisically, as though not truly engaged in the match. But at least this time, on several occasions, he showed some fire, enough in fact that he was assessed a point penalty for racket abuse.

It’s hard to know what’s going through his mind. Maybe he actually does care but expresses those emotions outwardly in what appears to be a non-caring fashion.

Whatever the case, Fognini is enormously talented and, oddly, a fascinating player to watch. His detached demeanor, for some inexplicable reason isn’t annoying, it’s actually somewhat interesting.

After witnessing one of his losses, you’re left a little perplexed, but thinking he could have won if only he’d really, really wanted to.


2 thoughts on “Fabio Fognini: A Perplexing Study In Nonchalance

  1. Marty I agree with your assessment, but as I recall it, in Cincinnati, he got a foot fault called on him as he was serving for the 1st set, and he was no good after that !!

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