The carnival comes to round two of the Rio Olympics as 16th seed Benoit Paire goes against Fabio Fognini. Two of the sports biggest enigmas go head-to-head for the fourth time with Paire holding a 2-1 edge in their previous meetings.
(16) Benoit Paire vs Fabo Fognini
Paire put some superbly low expectations on himself coming to Rio, saying that he wasn’t in the best frame of mind to play after a difficult first seven months this season. He overcame an early deficit in his Olympic opener as he battled past Lukas Rosol 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Frenchman again had his troubles landing his first serve at just 53 percent. He won a solid 73 percent of his first serve points, but just 45 percent on second serve. He did an admirable job saving seven of ten break chances against his serve, while converting on four of ten against Rosol.
Fognini also was forced to come from behind in his opener. He finished with flying colors by the end as he bageled Victor Estrella Burgos in the final set to complete a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0. It was about everything you have come to expect from a Fognini match. The Italian aided his cause by improving his first serve after a poor opening set, where he landed just 45 percent in play. That allowed Burgos to take 18 of 31 points played off Fognini’s serve. Fognini would win 40 of the 53 points played on his serve over the final two sets. The Italian scored four breaks of serve on eight chances, while dropping serve three times.
This is meeting number four between these two, the first that will be played on a hard court. The three previous encounters came on clay. Paire won two of three, including a straight sets win in the second round of last year’s French Open. Fognini’s serve was vulnerable that day to the tune of 19 break chances against it with Paire cashing in on seven breaks. Fognini’s lone win against the 16th seed in Rio came way back in 2009 in French Open qualifying.
Heading to Rio, it was the Italian with the form as he came in off a clay court title in Croatia, before crashing out at the Rogers Cup to James Donaldson in his second match. It was hardly a surprise given that Fognini has turned around after winning the Umag title on Sunday and headed across the globe to Toronto where he played on Tuesday. He actually won that match against Steve Johnson before fatigue appeared to grip him against Donaldson.
Paire’s brief upturn in Washington, D.C. where he went 2-1 was ended quickly in Toronto. He lost in his opener in straight sets to Radek Stepanek. Paire is now perfectly balanced at 7-7 on outdoor hard courts inn 2016 after his round one win in Rio. He is still under .500 on the surface in his career. Fognini himself has appeared allergic to hard courts too at just 4-3 this season after his round one win. This Rio surface however seems for in tune for both as it is playing slow and allowing for plenty of time to chase down balls and perhaps giving it a little clay feel due to the speed.
You can expect both to prefer the play to remain back towards the baseline as it gives both better chances to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses in ground exchanges. For Paire, that is his forehand. His backhand at times can show as one of the more picture perfect and sublime on tour. It is the wing where he feels confident. The forehand? That is where the errors lie and he’s not punishing opponents with it due to the lack of confidence. Fognini is comfortable with his forehand and has that grip it and rip style that can certainly zone in and make life difficult for anyone. His backhand is the weaker side, but not a total match killer by any means. Paire’s ground game this year has seemed more prone to fits of failure than Fognini’s, so give the Italian the slight edge.
As round one showed, both Paire and Fognini come in and out of focus plenty during the duration of a best of three sets match. Neither possesses the serve to completely dominate a match, although Paire’s first serve is a solid weapon if he can get it into plenty enough. That has been part of his problem during a very average if not mostly below average 2016. If his first serve percentage flutters below 50 percent, he is vulnerable to defeat any day on any surface. Fognini does slightly better, averaging getting in around 58 percent of his first serves. His win rate on his first serve is lower however, without as much punch as Paire. Paire reasonably has the more favorable serve, but nothing is ever reasonable with “Don’t Care” Paire who likes to plunk down those no-show matches far too much for a player ranked where he is ranked.
I mean let’s be honest, the winner of this one isn’t going to be as important to us as seeing which one loses their mind on court first. Paire has an edge there, having already been assessed a point penalty in his first round match because of his displeasure over a call. In spite of Paire’s recent wins over Fognini, it’s hard to see him winning in straight forward fashion if he wins at all. His game has been so all over the place this year. Fognini has at least found his rhthym lately and has been far less prone to blow out losses.
I think there is a bit more of an air of confidence from the Italian and sometimes belief is what you need to get you past an opponent in a 50-50 type of match. Of course with these two, a coin flip type match would see the coin land straight up on its edge.Let’s hope they deliver on the expected shenanigans.
Fognini wins in three sets