French Open 2018: Flamboyant Fabio Fognini ends Kyle Edmund hopes, Nadal records continued to stack
Kyle Edmund loses to Fabio Fognini in five sets in the round of 32 at the French Open
There had been thrills and spills, expectations met and a some dashed. Old records continued to pile up, and new records beckoned. Even the weather seemed determined to get in on the act and go for broke on records. How many consecutive evenings over Roland Garros ended in thunder, lightning, and torrential showers? This year, quite a few.
On the court, of course, one man in particular was setting records with almost every step onto court: Defending and 10-time champion, world No1 Rafael Nadal. He was up to 81 match-wins at Roland Garros from 83 played, needed just two more match-wins to reach a career 900, and had lost only one match on clay for 21 wins this year.
If he beat Richard Gasquet, he would reach the fourth round at a Major for the 40th time, just the six man in the Open era to do so. And the chances were that he would succeed. For the hugely talented Frenchman Gasquet, born just 15 days after Nadal, had lost all 15 of their previous matches, and was on a 25-set losing streak dating back 10 years. Though it was, of course, not just Gasquet who had found Nadal impenetrable. When it came to Roland Garros, Nadal was on a run of 31 straight sets, and likely to break his own record of 32 on this middle Saturday.
Take the oldest remaining man in the singles draw, 34-year-old Fernando Verdasco, playing in a remarkable 60th consecutive Major. He notched up his third top-10 win of the year to reach the fourth round for the seventh time in his 350th clay court match—and after saving four set points on his way to a straight sets win, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4, against Grigor Dimitrov.
Take 21-year-old Alexander Zverev, ranked No2, and arguably the in-form man of the clay season. He won Munich and Madrid, pressed Nadal to the limit in the final in Rome, and made the semis of Monte-Carlo. He led the Race to London with 33-8 for the season, but all eyes were on whether he could make the second week of a Major for the first time.
Only once had he made the fourth round in his already impressive career, at Wimbledon, and he came perilously close to losing early again in Roland Garros. Twice he was forced to come back from two sets to one down. He managed to break as Damir Dzumhur served for victory in their third-round match, and then faced match-point to pull out the 150th win of his short career.
Now it was the turn of Kyle Edmund, seeded in a Major for the first time with a career-high No17 rank, and attempting to make the fourth round at the French Open for the first time. This breakthrough season took him to a first Major semi in Australia, his first tour-level final in Marrakech, wins over David Goffin, Dimitrov and Novak Djokovic, and past Andy Murray to become the top-ranked Briton.
He had never played the charismatic but desperately unpredictable No18 seed Fabio Fognini, a man who can break up the powerful baseline rhythm favoured by Edmund, but consistency over best-of-five, would play a vital part in this seesawing contest.
Edmund got off to a fine start with a quick break. He faced two break points in the second game, and then also the challenge of a medical incident in the crowd. But the mature confidence Edmund has developed with his rise in the ranks kicked in, he served big, held, 2-0.
But Fognini, so laid back, looking as though he would rather be anywhere else but on Suzanne Lenglen, lulled Edmund into a casual service game, and the Italian pounced with his deceptive forehand: a break back, 3-3. And Fognini now began to flow, drops here, angled backhand winners there, a service motion that looked as though he was practice mode. He broke for 5-3, and held with ease, 6-3, as Edmund slide to clay—literally.
Could the Italian keep this up? He had, after all, taken the first set off Nadal in Rome a fortnight back, and was now exuding confidence. But Edmund halted the flow with a fine love hold and a couple of wrong-footing winners. He then broke to love as Fognini threw in a shocker of a service game, concluded with a double fault: 1-3.
Here was ‘blowing hot and cold’ personified: a love hold to Edmund, 4-1, a love break, 5-1—11 straight points to Edmund. Then just as quickly, Fognini made two breaks, and Edmund called for the trainer for treatment to his left hip. The Italian went into zen mode, towel over his head, but on resumption of play, was promptly broken for the set, 6-3.
The third set saw the solid tennis of Edmund take on the wayward play of Fognini, who reciprocated with a medical time-out for a left ankle that was already taped at the start of the match. Sure enough, the Italian piled on errors, including a double fault on break point, to concede the set, 6-3.
Cold turned back to hot, and Fognini turned it on again at the start of the fourth: a break and then break points for a 4-0 lead, but Edmund dug in and got his reward, a hold for 1-3. The Briton then broke as Fognini’s errors piled up further. However, as they headed to the business end of the set with little between them, Fognini kicked into gear, pulled off drop winners, that killer down-the-line backhand, and drew a tired drop into the net from Edmund for break and set, 6-4.
For the deciding fifth, Fognini served first, but also faced break points after twice being called for a foot-fault. He survived, and held to love for 5-4. Now the crowd, which had only gradually filled the large arena, sensed the moment as they waited for the resumption of Gael Monfils against Goffin. It was just the atmosphere that Fognini loves, and sure enough two winners and a near miss from Edmund brought up 0-40 and three match-points. One more error from the Briton saw Fognini lift his hands in victory, 6-4, after three and a half hours.
Next up is Marin Cilic or Steve Johnson, with the Croat going for his fifth straight win over the American. Cilic, who continues to evolve at the age of 29, won his first Masters last year, made his first clay Masters semi last month, and aims to continue his Roland Garros progress beyond his first quarter-final here last year. He is, incidentally, also a former junior French Open champion.