How racquet puncher put an end to Aussie’s brave stand
FINALLY, the match of the tournament for 2020.
As the clock struck midnight, Jordan Thompson pushed an ever-more fascinating battle into a final set super tie-break after a battle that ebbed and flowed, no man ever in control until one too many errors from the Aussie handed Fabio Fognini the victory, 7-6 (4) 6-1 3-6 4-6 7-6 (4).
It was a great shame.
Thompson had been behind for more than three hours when the tie-break arrived but hung in from two sets down through sheer guts and a sometimes errant and emotional Italian opponent.
What looked, a couple of hours in, to be a case of Jordan Thompson underperforming at a major once again, morphed into a late- night classic on Margaret Court Arena, the Aussie a gallant loser.
No one would have predicted this. For the first two sets, Thompson, who has never been beyond the second round in Melbourne, simply wasn't at the party.
He is frustrating to watch, unforced errors and a temper forever simmering just beneath the surface more in evidence for the first half of this match than any genuine self-belief.
Fognini, who perennially blows hot and cold, simply held firm despite a foot injury that led to a medical time out at the end of the first set.
The Italian veteran is ranked 12 in the world for a reason, winning the Monte Carlo Masters last year.
He is no easy touch and moved up a gear as the second set began with the match suddenly rushing away from Thompson, who smacked his racquet on to the floor as he was broken for 4-0.
A warning a few points later for more racquet abuse followed, his weapon well and truly mashed.
It had not, before this week, been the best year for Thompson - first-round exits in Doha and Adelaide and now a sound thrashing by Fognini.
He is at a crossroads in his game and lacks a killer shot and sometimes instinct. A good, knockabout player who often seems as frustrated with himself as the crowd and his coaches must be, his body language when he goes behind is not always the best.
But huge credit to Thompson here, he hung in his first-ever match against Fognini, just as well with Lleyton Hewitt in his box.
Australia's next Davis Cup tie just six weeks away.
The third set looked a formality for Fognini, but the 25-year-old Aussie, world ranked 66, found new breath and won through by sheer determination as the Fognini impetus dropped a touch.
When he scraps and hustles, as he was forced to do here, Thompson is first rate and the Sydney man pushed himself way beyond what he can have imagined.
At two sets all, the crowd took on a new life also, backing Thompson resolutely, but with the Italian holding serve more easily, it looked ominous still for Thompson, who was drenched in sweat.
Fognini, briefly, threatened to implode, grazing his knuckles as he punched his racquet from his hand in frustration at the mid-point of the fifth set and getting a warning for a repeat violation seconds after he missed a second match point.
"It's perfect, I feel good," he said disingenuously of the self-inflicted wound post-match.
It would have been the biggest win of Thompson's career, four match points saved before the tie-break testament to his bloody mindedness.
Thompson must build on this performance, so close, so far, but very promising indeed.