A raging Fabio Fognini didn't exactly look like a man with his mind on his work as he repeatedly slammed his blue Babolat to the red clay, snapped three strings in a four-game span, picked away at a festering blister on his index finger and railed at both chair umpire Cedric Maurier and tournament referee Lars Graff after being hit with a time violation warning and subsequently losing his serve.
All that activity was prelude to Fognini's most important eruption.
Facing a 4-6, 1-4 deficit, Fognini re-focused, fought off three championship points in a topsy-turvy tie breaker and roared through the decider to pull off a wild 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-2 victory over qualifier Federico Delbonis in the Hamburg final.
It was Fognini's 10th consecutive victory and his second title in an eight-day span following his maiden ATP title in Stuttgart last week.
The 26-year-old Italian can compete with operatic passion — he gives you some soaring passages, moments of drama and emotional carnage — but can sometimes sabotage the performance with self-indulgent shotmaking and temperamental explosions.
The 114th-ranked Delbonis — who saved two two match points in a three hour, 15-minute quarterfinal win over Fernando Verdasco then beat top-seeded Roger Federer to reach his first ATP final — showed no signs of nerves at the outset. Firing his heavy lefty forehand crosscourt, Delbonis fought off five break points in an epic fifth game as Fognini botched a backhand volley from point-blank range on the second break point. On the third, Fognini ran down a drop shot, but pushed his reply long, punctuating that painful miss by slamming his stick to the court in frustration. The speedy Fognini made two of the most electrifying gets you'll see on a clay court in a successive sideline to sideline sprints to extend the game (almost crashing into the court-side clock in the process), but Delbonis stood tall and held. The Argentine converted his lone break point of the opener to take the 45-minute first set.
Fognini may want to talk to his stringer after breaking a string for the third time in a four-game span at deuce in the second set. Hit with a time violation warning as he walked over to fetch a new stick, Fognini erupted imploring Graff to intercede. After the requisite whistling and jeering from fans eager for more tennis, Fognini went back to face break point and predictably framed a forehand to drop serve for 1-all. The woman in the front row who spent much of the first set waving a "Forza Fognini" sign now clung to it wearing a forlorn expression of resignation.
"It's your fault Lars. It's your fault because you are here—you do nothing!" Fognini hissed during the changeover while taking treatment for his finger. Unable to shake consuming anger, Fognini looked lost, missing by wide margins in dropping nine straight points. Delbonis rolled to a 6-4, 4-1 lead and the outcome appeared a formality. But Fognini was just getting warmed up: He broke at love then hit a pair of gorgeous drop shot winners to dig out of a 0-30 hole, holding for 4-all. Three consecutive love holds set up the dramatic tie breaker.
On his first championship point, Delbonis delivered a brilliant wide serve on a surprise serve-and-volley play that swept Fognini completely off the court. All the lanky Argentine had to do was clear the net to take the title and complete a feel-good finale, but he nudged his backhand volley into the top of the tape, eliciting a collective gasp from the crowd, for 6-all. Fognini saved the second championship point with a smooth forehand volley. On the third, Delbonis had a good look at an opening and took his shot, but his inside-out forehand tripped off the top of the tape and staggered wide for 8-all. An re-energized Fognini won the final two points of the breaker on attrition to seize the 62-minute second set despite serving 44 percent and fighting a battle on multiple fronts.
Trying to overcome the angst of missed match points and looking a half-step slower to the ball, Delbonis cracked in his first service game of the decider, slapping a forehand into the middle of the net to gift a fist-pumping Fognini the break and a 2-0 lead. Forty-five minutes earlier, Fognini looked like a man more interested in waging a grudge match against Maurier and Graff, but when the Italian zapped a backhand winner down the line to conclude a love hold he was in complete command with a 3-0 advantage. Fognini held at 15 for 4-1 then got back to work grinding out another break for 5-1.
Credit Delbonis for displaying class in the aftermath of a gut-wrenching defeat that will surely haunt him, but he will rise to a career-high rank of around No. 62 and if he can translate his game to faster surfaces he has a future that will be fun to follow.
"It's unfortunate today, but it's tennis, you know?" Delbonis told the appreciative crowd, squeezing out a smile that revealed braces.
Fognini will wake up on Monday as the top-ranked Italian man, cracking the Top 20 for the first time after thriving in a thrill-ride of a final. He has 25 clay-court wins this season, second only to Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, and spoke like a grateful champion.
"I was a little bit lucky today; you were unbelievable today," Fognini told Delbonis. "Congratulations to you...Today I was a little bit nervous in the beginning... I was lucky, but this is the sport and you have to accept that."