Monte-Carlo Masters 2019

Monte-Carlo Masters: An Easter to remember as Fabio Fognini beats Lajovic for first Masters title

Fabio Fognini wins his first Masters title in Monte Carlo after beating Dusan Lajovic in straight sets on Sunday

Fabio Fognini (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Fabio Fognini (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It has been some week at the Monte-Carlo Masters, the first and perhaps the most glamorous of the clay Masters.

The headlines before play got under way were all about Rafael Nadal’s campaign for a 12th title, and about whether anyone other than world No1 and former champion Novak Djokovic could stop him.

Perhaps they would face some tough tests, of course. The biggest might be No4 seed Dominic Thiem, runner-up at Roland Garros, twice a finalist at the Madrid Masters, and with eight titles on clay. He arrived on a wave of form following his first Masters title in Indian Wells.

Another big test may come in the shape of No3 seed Alexander Zverev, who only turned 22 this week, but had three Masters titles to his name—two of them on clay, one each in Rome and Madrid. He was also runner-up in Rome last year, and had twice won on Munich’s clay.

Perhaps other youngsters such as Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas—the latter a finalist in Barcelona last year—could break through at least to the last four… or would it be one of old guard, such as former champion Stan Wawrinka?

In the event, it was none of them.

Unseeded Dusan Lajovic, who had never before reached a main-tour final let alone won a title, beat No16 seed David Goffin, Thiem, and then No10 Daniil Medvedev.

And No13 seed Fabio Fognini, who entered this tournament on a five-match losing streak on clay, and had won just one of his past eight matches, had beaten Zverev, Coric and, most stunning of all, Nadal—all three of them in straight sets.

For in the event, it was neither Nadal nor Djokovic who would contest the final in Monte-Carlo. The latter was beaten by Medvedev in the quarters, and in his place was a different Serb, the 48-ranked single-hander Lajovic, making his debut not just in a Masters final but in any final. As for Fognini, he may have won eight titles from 18 finals in his long career, but this would also be his first Masters final.

For Lajovic, he would have more than the fire and flourish of Fognini’s tennis to worry about. The Monte-Carlo tournament is a favourite for the Italians—the border between France and Italy is just 10km along the Mediterranean coast—and they are always highly vocal, highly enthusiastic supporters for the Italians who play the draw. That Fognini lives just 50km away makes him as close to a ‘home’ player as they could wish for. The noise in Monte-Carlo would likely be heard from his own veranda.

They certainly had plenty to cheer about in a high-pace match full of flair from both men. Lajovic had to fight off several deuces and two break points in the fourth game, but finally had to concede the advantage in the sixth game, 4-2, and that was all Fognini needed for the set, 6-3, his winner count up to 12.

The second set would be just as close, and packed with quality shot-making, angle, touch, and not a little great defence—and with the kind of flair on both sides that tennis fans in these parts relish.

There was an exchange of breaks in the first two games, but again the Italian edged the lead in the fifth game as Lajovic pushed a forehand wide on break point.

But there was some concern in the Fognini camp as the 31-year-old took a medical time out for treatment to his ankle and to apply binding to his thigh. He had been stretched hither and thither in this match, and performed an athletic splits late in the first set that perhaps tweaked the muscles.

No matter, it seemed. He had looked like a man on a mission all week—focused, serious, and producing his best tennis on a more consistent level than ever before.

He held for 4-2, and did so again to love for 5-3. Would he waver as he served for this very special prize?

He did not. He stormed to victory, 6-4, after a compelling hour and 40 minutes, and the two men embraced like old friends, a delightful conclusion to an extraordinary week.

To give some context to Fognini’s achievement, it is possible to count on your fingers the number of men since 2010 who have broken the glass ceiling formed by Nadal, 33 Masters, Djokovic, 32 Masters, Roger Federer, 28 Masters, and Andy Murray, 14 Masters.

Of those other winners, Wawrinka has won Monte-Carlo once, Zverev has won a title in each of Rome and Madrid—and that amounts to just three out of 30 clay Masters.

Fognini has now joined that very exclusive company, and has become the first ever Italian to win a Masters title anywhere.

It was some journey. He recovered from 4-6, 1-4 down in his first-round match against Andrey Rublev, came back from a set and 0-2 down against Coric, and now rises to a career-high No12 come Monday. No wonder the Monte-Carlo Country Club rocked with cheers, that his wife, Major champion Flavia Pennetta, could not stop beaming, and that the usually voluble Italian pronounced himself lost for words.

He found just enough words, however, to mention one particular person in his list of thanks. It was his mother’s birthday, and this was as good a gift as he could give her.

Roy Keane
Roy Keane names three players he’d keep at Man United
Gossip
Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool FC prepare £33.4m offer for Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano provides update on Chelsea FC search for January signing
Gossip
Mikel Arteta
Juventus want Arsenal to include Thomas Partey in Arthur Melo deal - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano gives update on Arsenal link to Juventus midfielder Arthur Melo
Roy Keane
Roy Keane names three players he’d keep at Man United
Gossip
Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool FC prepare £33.4m offer for Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano provides update on Chelsea FC search for January signing
Gossip
Mikel Arteta
Juventus want Arsenal to include Thomas Partey in Arthur Melo deal - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano gives update on Arsenal link to Juventus midfielder Arthur Melo
Slideshow
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature