Having not yet completed my annual conversion to Fruit Bat Hours for the Australian Open, I was in and out of sleep. I wasn’t sure if I was really watching the ending of a real-life Fabio Fognini five-setter or had just summoned, from my subconscious, the Platonic ending to a Fabio Fognini five-setter: a never-ending, vigorously gestured tirade in Italian.
Then I woke up. It was real, and longer than the tournament’s official highlights package.
The second-round meeting between world No. 78 Salvatore Caruso and No. 16 seed Fognini had it all: an umpire fluent enough in Italian to detect all expletives, a fifth-set ankle twist by Caruso on this year’s slicker-than-usual court, and the usual stretches of bloated indifference from Fognini. In the seesaw fifth-set tiebreak, Fognini laced a backhand passing shot at 12-12 that was the best thing I saw all day. A minute later he won, 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(12). But the true action required a keen ear and Italian fluency to appreciate in full:
There’s too much gold here: “I didn’t disrespect you until now”; the way the fight subsides and flares up again; the tournament staff milling around; the hands; Caruso getting waved off to the other exit so he has to walk by Fognini again at the end. But “Let’s say I didn’t expect that from you” cuts straight to the quick. Has Caruso watched his most famous countryman in his profession do his job even once?
Fabio Fognini is a lawn sprinkler of slurs, threats, and gripes—sometimes surreal, sometimes vile, sometimes nonverbal—that spatter everyone in the vicinity. There is nothing else functioning except that sprinkler. It’s probably the one thing to be expected from a match against him.