Zverev had won both of their previous meetings in straight sets, and the first set of their third meeting could’ve gone either way—Fognini found himself serving to stay in the first set twice, at 4-5 and 5-6.
But the fiery Italian held both of those service games to take the set to a tie-break, and after missing his first set point at 6-5 in the breaker with a forehand error, he took full advantage of his second set point at 7-6, coming into the net off a kick serve and putting away an overhead to take a one-set lead.
Fognini stepped on the gas from there, rolling through the second set in 33 minutes to reach the fifth Masters 1000 quarterfinal of his career, and his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal since Rome last year.
His best career Masters 1000 results are two semifinals at Monte Carlo in 2013 and Miami in 2017.
Both players struggled with unforced errors in the match, but Zverev struggled more—he finished the match with 11 winners to 25 unforced errors. Fognini had 19 winners to 24 unforced errors.
“I’m really happy,” Fognini told ATPTour.com. “Happy because I was always losing with him, but it was also a really tough match. He’s No. 3 in the world, even if he’s playing his best tennis. I’m really happy.”
The Italian’s victory over the No. 3-ranked Zverev was his third career win over a Top 3 player, the first two also coming on clay courts, against a No.3-ranked Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of Rio de Janeiro in 2015 and against a No. 1-ranked Andy Murray in the second round of Rome in 2017.
Zverev wasn’t the only Top 8 seed to go out in third round action in Monte Carlo on Thursday—No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem and No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas lost earlier in the day. The only two Top 8 seeds to reach the last eight this week are No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 2 seed Nadal.
Awaiting Fognini in the quarterfinals will be the No. 9 seed, Borna Coric, who beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the last match of the day, 6-4, 6-2. Fognini won the pair’s only previous meeting, though it was almost five years ago at Umag in 2014, with the Italian just edging the Croat, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
“Coric is a really good fighter. He fights a lot. He won so many matches last year,” Fognini said. “I have to be happy for sure and enjoy my match from tonight, recover well - that’s the most important thing - and try my best.”