Monday, March 11, 2013

Fun with Fabio



Until tonight, I knew almost nothing about Italian tennis player Fabio Fognini.  I had occasionally seen his name pop up in major tennis tournaments and was aware he was a solid mid-level ATP player, having finished the last two seasons ranked in the top 50. However as far as being noteworthy for his bright headbands and the screams of women that seem to follow him every moment he goes walking through the Indian Wells practice area, I had little knowledge of his exploits. But after tonight's match with Novak Djokovic, I will keep my eye on dear Fabio.  Fognini pushed Djokovic in a way the Djoker is not accustomed to being pushed in opening round encounters. while also creating a match that was one of the two or three most entertaining thus far in the tournament.  Even though he was facing the best player in the world, Fognini was the star, taking the match through three distinct "Fabio" stages:

Fabio Stage One: THE ANNIHILATION 

The first set produced one of the most complete beatdowns this country has seen since Reagan-Mondale in 1984. Over the course of 24 minutes (and it would have been longer, but commercials wait for no man), Fognini put up a performance that led one woman sitting next to me in the stands to say, "has the young man with a goatee every played tennis before?"  On the surface, Fabio would seem to have everything going for him, he is a handsome, fit Italian playing tennis for a living and traveling the world chasing his dream. Normally I would see a person like this and lean towards disliking him (especially when he, like Fabio, has great hair). However the putrid nature of Fognini's first set made me actually feel sorry for the guy, as I thought he was headed for Brandon Knight-level embarrassment (not to change the subject, but if you haven't seen my fellow Wildcat get dunked on tonight, check it out...it was so bad that RIP Brandon Knight was trending worldwide on Twitter).  The 6-0 result was almost an act of mercy, as putting up a bagel against Djokovic happens, and the relative normalcy of that score hides the complete thoroughness of the annihilation that occurred. It was painful to watch and for me, and most of the folks in Stadium One, the thought of another set of the same seemed unnecessary.

Fabio Stage Two: THE LOVABLE LOSER

As could be expected, after such thorough destruction, the crowd began to actually feel sorry for poor Fabio. Even though he is young, wealthy and has a model girlfriend, Indian Wells took pity, knowing it was watching the complete humiliation of a young man in a public setting. So the crowd began clapping, chanting Fabio's name and even causing The Outer Courts bloggers to hide their press pass, get rid of their objectiveness and cheer loudly for the Italian underdog. I want no man to be humiliated (unless its on YouTube and we can put it on our blog) and thus I was hoping for some small victory for Fognini, a victory in a singular battle to hide the demolition of the larger war. The second set became the set of Fabio, as the fans tried desperately to help him avoid the double goose egg and Drew and I put on our rally caps in support. And miraculously, it worked. After holding off Djokovic in his first service game with a couple of wicked forehands, Fabio hit a down-the-line winner that made Stadium One erupt and Fognini smile with relief. The picture above showcased his mock excitement at having won one game and avoiding walking out with the dreaded double zero. Djokovic's supremacy wasn't in jeopardy, but at least Fabio got the game that could help maintain his dignity and happiness.

Fabio Stage Three:  THE FIGHT

But while we all clapped at Fabio's good fortune and then began to focus on other things (for me it was the amazing array of nose hair coming from the man three seats down from me...what age is it that nose hair becomes something that isn't even worth dealing with any more? I would argue that once it can literally blow in the wind, it is time to take action...but my friend to the left apparently doesn't agree). However Fabio was not done. He strung together a number of big points in a row, broke Djokovic on two of three service games and managed to come back and win a thrilling second set. As nightfall came to Indian Wells, the scene felt reminiscent of a late night match at the US Open, with the crowd rallying around its favorite, and Fabio seeming to be the (surprising) people's choice. Both players exerted maximum effort and after a number of fantastic passing forehands, Fabio won a second set that seemed virtually impossible to steal just one hour prior.

Reality hit hard in the third set, as Djokovic put his foot on the gas pedal and got the victory. But for a few short moments, Indian Wells rocked with the possibility of a huge upset, and the great storyline of Fabio the Magnificent. Granted it wasn't a Disney movie, Fabio actually exhibited somewhat poor behavior on the court, throwing his racket, berating a linesman who called a coaching warning and simply refusing to attempt to go after two drop shots. Rudy he was not. However his charm on the points he did win, allowed fans to forget the hot-headed behavior that occurred at other junctures and cheer the possibility of an amazing upset. It didn't happen, but it was fun watching Djokovic sweat in the process. I am not saying Fabio is my favorite player of Indian Wells, that honor belongs to the great Ivo Karlovic, but I am saying that for one evening, he produced an entertaining match that had my blood flowing. Fognini was terrible, lovable and competitive, all in one three set battle. That ability to produce such varied results is unique, and worthy of praise. So Fabio, wherever you are tonight, stop whatever rock star moment you are having, and know that we here on The Outer Courts salute you. Here is hoping you get a chance to appreciate your performance and maybe even pose with a fake bull once again: