Fabio Fognini On Fatherhood & Fantastic Form

Italian reflects on his best tennis coinciding with the birth of his son

Perhaps it’s fitting that Fabio Fognini is playing his best tennis during the best stretch of his personal life.

It all started two years ago at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, him home ATP Masters 1000 tournament. After stunning then-World No. 1 Andy Murray in straight sets to reach the third round, the Italian was set to face rapid-riser Alexander Zverev.

The night before that match, Fognini got a call from his pregnant wife, 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, in Barcelona. She had gone to the doctor and their baby was coming. Zverev won their match in straight sets and eventually claimed his maiden Masters 1000 crown. But Fognini was plenty happy with his own victory as the next day, Federico Fognini was born.

“I took the first plane from Rome to Barcelona. I flew the same day and the same night, he was born,” Fognini told ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “It was really strange. I said ‘Whoa!’ It was something different. But the feeling was unbelievable. Family is the first thing. It’s everything for me. When I’m home, I’m with the baby… it is the first thing when I wake up and the last thing when I go to bed.”

Naturally, the moment changed Fognini’s life. And his happiness has shown in his improved results on the court. The Italian has captured five of his nine ATP Tour titles since Federico was born.

“I think it’s really positive because once on court, I try to do my best. If not, life goes on,” Fognini said. “It’s really tough because we travel every week, we change continents, we change surfaces, we change cities, languages, jet lag, everything. After three weeks max, I have to come home because I miss them.

“When they are not with me, I WhatsApp them I don’t know how many times. But when I’m free, when I’m at the hotel relaxing, I want to see them.”

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In April, just about a month before Federico’s second birthday, Fognini enjoyed the biggest victory of his career, lifting his first Masters 1000 trophy at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters after defeating Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Fognini just wanted to enjoy the moment with his family. 

"I’m really, really happy. Nothing to say," Fognini said at the time. "I have to keep calm, maybe take a shower, relax, and think about this because it’s something incredible."

Now, the 32-year-old is on the doorstep of his biggest breakthrough yet. Fognini, who faces Zverev in the fourth round at Roland Garros, is on the verge of cracking the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time, which would make him just the third Italian man to do so and the oldest player to reach the milestone for the first time since 38-year-old Ken Rosewall and 35-year-old Rod Laver on 23 August 1973, the first week of the ATP Rankings.

Breaking into the elite group is not guaranteed yet, but he can help his cause significantly with a victory against the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion. No matter what happens though, Fognini will walk off the court knowing he has his family — including two-year-old Federico — in his corner.

“I hope that he’s going to do whatever he wants, tennis, football, whatever,” Fognini said of his son's future. “But so long as he’s healthy and happy.”