Friday, August 10, 2018

Fabbiano routs countryman during Italian renaissance

No. 1 seed Thomas Fabbiano dominated
fellow Italian and friend Stefano Napoli-
tano 6-2, 6-2 Thursday to reach the quar-
terfinals of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals
Challenger in Aptos, Calif. Photo by
Paul Bauman
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   APTOS, Calif. -- You don't have to be Brad Gilbert to figure out the three countries with the most men in the top 200.
   The United States has 19, and Spain and France are next with 17 each.
   But No. 4 might come as a surprise. That's long-slumbering Italy with 13, ahead of Germany and Argentina with 12 each.
   Two Italians in the club met for the first time on Thursday night in the second round of the $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club, and it wasn't close. Thomas Fabbiano, seeded first at No. 105, routed No. 194 Stefano Napolitano 6-2, 6-2 in one hour to reach the quarterfinals as fog rolled in from the nearby Pacific Ocean.
   The Italian renaissance began when Francesca Schiavone became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in the 2010 French Open. Schiavone and Sara Errani were the runners-up at Roland Garros the following two years, respectively.
   Errani and Roberta Vinci completed a career Grand Slam in women's doubles in 2014, and Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli won the Australian Open men's doubles title in 2015.
   Vinci pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sports history when she ended Serena Williams' bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf's in 1988 in the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Open. Vinci then lost to 33-year-old Flavia Pennetta in the first all-Italian Grand Slam final in the Open era.
   Fognini, 31, leads the current crop of Italian men at No. 14 in the world. Only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters), he won his third title of the year, eighth of his career and first on hard courts last week in Los Cabos, shocking top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
   Fognini and Pennetta married in June 2016.
   Also, Marco Cecchinato reached the semifinals of the French Open in June, ousting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
Stefano Napolitano fell behind 4-0 in each
set against Thomas Fabbiano. Photo by
Paul Bauman
   Fabbiano stunned Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion rebounding from knee surgery, to reach the third round at Wimbledon last month before losing to 19-year-old Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas.
   Napolitano advanced to the final of last week's $75,000 Lexington (Ky.) Challenger, falling to Lloyd Harris of South Africa.
   On the women's side, Camila Giorgi gained her first Grand Slam quarterfinal last month at Wimbledon before losing to Williams.
   "We are many, we have good coaches, we are positive people," Fabbiano said of Italy's success. "Now we are waiting for the top 10, for the big name to get in the top 10.
   "Schiavone helps the women (with her success). Now with (Andreas) Seppi, Fognini, we are trying to do the same career (as) them. They are bringing us the new level. We are hoping there are new players coming in the next few years."
   Cecchinato and Errani, however, have been embroiled in controversy.
   In 2016, the Italian Tennis Federation suspended Cecchinato for 18 months and fined him 40,000 euros ($43,900) for fixing two matches and using confidential information for gambling, but he successfully appealed.
   Errani said she was "disgusted" that her two-month doping suspension recently was increased to 10 months. She argued that she had accidentally ingested her mother's breast cancer medicine at a family meal.
   Fabbiano and Napolitano, aside from being Italian, are opposites in many ways. Fabbiano is 29, one of the smallest men in pro tennis at 5-foot-8 (1.73 meters) and 152 pounds (69 kilograms), and swarthy. Napolitano is 23, prototypically tall at 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters) and movie star handsome.
   "(We are) very good friends," said Fabbiano, who lives five hours by car from Napolitano. "We know each other since many years. (On) the court, we try to win, but outside the court we have dinner together, which is not usual with tennis players. But it's nice to spend time with good friends on the tour."
Wild card Martin Redlicki overpowered qualifier
Marcos Giron in a matchup of former NCAA
champions from UCLA. Photo by Paul Bauman
  Even though Italians grow up on clay, Fabbiano prefers outdoor hard courts.
   "So this is my season, actually," cracked Fabbiano, who also advanced to the third round of last year's U.S. Open. "That's my weapon you saw today. I like to play on hard courts -- no more bad bounce."
   The sets against Napolitano were almost identical. Fabbiano broke serve in the first and third games to lead 4-0, and both players held serve the rest of the way.
   Fabbiano, playing in Aptos for the first time this year, won 86 percent of the points on his first serve (19 of 22) and survived all three break points against him.
   "I was more solid than him, less mistake, high intensity," said Fabbiano, who reached a career-high No. 70 last September. "It was not difficult match. There were many mistake from his side, but I was very solid. I did my thing in the best way, and I bring the win from my side."
   In addition to his speed and superb groundstrokes, Fabbiano has an outstanding return of serve.
   "It was actually a good key," added Fabbiano, who won 62 percent of the points on Napolitano's second serve (13 of 21). "When he put the first serve in, he made good points, but with the second serve, I put all my aggression on his game, and he fell from the first game."
   Fabbiano will play Martin Redlicki, a 22-year-old wild card from Boca Raton, Fla., today not before 1 p.m. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) left-hander overpowered 5-foot-11 (1.80-meter) Marcos Giron, a 25-year-old qualifier from Thousand Oaks in the Los Angeles area, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of former NCAA champions from UCLA to reach his second Challenger quarterfinal.
Marcos Giron fell to Martin Redlicki 6-3, 6-4 in the second
 round in Aptos, Calif. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Redlicki, who was born and raised in the Chicago area, captured the NCAA doubles title as a sophomore in 2016 with Mackenzie McDonald, a San Francisco Bay Area product, and this year with Evan Zhu. Giron won the NCAA singles crown in 2014.
   Today at 11 a.m., Harris will meet Liam Broady of Great Britain. Although both players are unseeded, it's an intriguing matchup.
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Harris, 21, whipped Joris De Loore of Belgium 6-2, 6-0 in 52 minutes to extend his winning streak to seven matches. He dispatched third-seeded Quentin Halys of France 6-4, 6-2 in 59 minutes in the first round.
   Broady, last year's runner-up in Aptos as a qualifier, defeated seventh seed and countryman Jay Clarke 7-6 (3), 6-4 to ensure that an unseeded player will reach the final.
   Broady, a 24-year-old left-hander, came to Aptos with an eight-match losing streak. Clarke, 20, won his first Challenger title two weeks ago in Binghamton, N.Y.
   Here are the updated Aptos singles and doubles draws and Friday's schedule. Live streaming is available.

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