By E.J. Crawford
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will feature players who could make an impact during this year's Series. Here’s a look at 26-year-old Fabio Fognini, the highest-ranked Italian man since Corrado Barazzutti in 1979.
The Baseline: For US Open fans, Fognini may be best known as the last victory of Andy Roddick’s career. And for much of his own career, he was regarded as a talented showman capable of incredible shots and inexplicable mid-match letdowns. But in an era of men’s tennis in which players are increasingly finding their way later in their careers, Fognini has emerged as Exhibit A for mid-20s development.
Now 26, Fognini has surged in the last two seasons, developing from a solid Top 50 player – he was ranked between 55 and 45 at the end of each year from 2009 to 2012 – into a legitimate contender, coming in at No. 16 for year-end 2013. His 2014 campaign has been a continuation of that upward trend; he reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open; won the title in Vina del Mar, Chile; and reached the final in Buenos Aires. And after back-to-back, round-of-16 showings in Indian Wells and Miami, the swashbuckling right-hander climbed to a career-best No. 13.
The Breakdown: Fognini’s game has all the flair fans have come to expect from the Italians, complete with heavy ground strokes and shot-making skills that rank with the world’s best. What has transformed him from a journeyman to a contender, though, is his ability to buckle down in tough matches. He still throws in some head-scratchers – see his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 loss to Rajeev Ram in the first round of last year’s US Open – but those are becoming more the exception than the rule as he has learned to mix some grit with his grace.
Moreover, Fognini is having greater success against the better players in the men’s game. In the last 12 months, he boasts wins over Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Nicolas Almagro, among others. And while his most notable successes have been on clay – all three of his ATP titles have come on the surface – his results in Melbourne and during the American spring swing show that he has the ability to make a run on hard courts as well. Is he likely to take home the 2014 Series trophy? Probably not. But you can be sure few top players want to see him in their portion of the draw this summer.