Fantastic Fabio! Fognini Triumphs In Sao Paulo
If Nicolas Jarry was nervous at the start of his maiden ATP World Tour championship match on Sunday, he certainly did not show it. The 22-year-old won the first 13 points of the Brasil Open final, using his thunderous forehand to race to a one-set lead against Fabio Fognini in just 22 minutes. The Chilean then held break point in the opening game of the second set, but sailed a forehand long while in control of the rally — an unforced error he will rue.
From then on, Fognini dug into the red clay in Sao Paulo, and the top-ranked Italian found his game to defeat Jarry 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 in one hour, 33 minutes for his first title since 2017 Gstaad, and his sixth trophy overall. The 30-year-old is now 6-9 in ATP World Tour finals — all six of his triumphs have come on clay.
"I think he started very well, getting very strong, with the new balls," Fognini said. "He had nothing to lose. Even though I lost the first set easily, I kept fighting and this was important, because it was a final.”
Fognini, who now has 14 victories on the season (14-4) — second on the ATP World Tour behind Dominic Thiem (16) — is the first Italian to capture the Brasil Open crown since the tournament began in 2001 and the first European to win the event since Rafael Nadal in 2013. Last year, it took Fognini until the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in May to earn his 14th win of the season.
One week after returning to the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings for the first time since February 2015, Fognini will use the 250 points he earns to rise another spot to No. 19 on Monday. He also takes home $92,085 in prize money.
“This is a great start to the season and very similar to 2014 (started 17-4)," Fognini said. "I worked hard in the off-season and it’s nice to be playing well. I will continue to work and there’s two big tournaments coming up now in Indian Wells and Miami.”
Jarry was attempting to become the first Chilean to capture an ATP World Tour title since Fernando Gonzalez at 2009 Vina del Mar. Prior to February, he had never reached a tour-level quarter-final. But since, he advanced to his first quarter-final in Quito, his maiden semi-final in Rio de Janeiro, and his first final this week in Sao Paulo. The 150 ATP Rankings points Jarry claims will send him to a career-best World No. 61 on Monday. He also earns $48,500.
"I always work to reach higher and higher, to be the best version of myself," Jarry said. "Now I am getting good results. I hope to keep going up. I think I can give more, much more. I made some mistakes during the tournament, but moving forward, I'll try to minimise this and try to win my first ATP [World Tour] title."
For a while, it looked like the Chilean would be the one lifting the trophy on Centre Court. Jarry was in complete control of the match in the early going, rocketing forehands in every direction to Fognini's dismay. But as soon as he missed a forehand on break point in the first game of the second set, the momentum shifted. The Italian began to put more balls in play, and groundstrokes that had been whizzing past him were suddenly crashing into the net or sailing long. Fognini raising his level caused the Chilean to make more unforced errors, forcing Jarry to back off. That allowed the Italian to play more aggressively himself.
When Fognini broke and then held for a 2-0 lead in the deciding set, it appeared that he was on the doorstep of his sixth tour-level trophy. But like he had all week — all four of Jarry's wins in Sao Paulo came in three sets and the past three were come-from-behind victories — the 22-year-old battled until the end.
Jarry crushed an inside-out forehand for a clean winner to earn his third break of the day — Fognini had been broken just once the entire tournament prior to Sunday — to get back on serve at 2-2 in the decider. But Fognini was too steady, as Jarry sailed a forehand approach shot to concede the decisive break in the set's seventh game.
“I waited a little for his serve to fall, which is his strong point. After that, I started to be more aggressive," Fognini said. "When he broke my serve in the third set, it was also his own merit. I could not do anything. He made two, three winners in one game, but I kept fighting.
"I'm happy because I played good tennis. Everyone who works with me and my family knows how difficult it is to win a title," Fognini admitted. "I lost much more finals than I won. So I have to enjoy it, because it's part of the sport, I have to keep working."
Did You Know?
Fognini did not claim his 14th victory of the 2017 season until the Internazionali BNL D'Italia in May. His victory against Jarry on Sunday was his 14th of 2018.