Top seed and 2013 champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria takes on sixth seeded Italian Fabio Fognini for a spot in the Stockholm final. Both men have enjoyed a respectable if not excellent period of form since the US Open. The highlight for Fognini was a run to the finals in St Petersburg where he lost in three sets to Damir Dzumhur. Dimitrov made it to the semifinals in Beijing and reached the quarterfinals in Shanghai, losing to Nadal in both matches. For Fognini a title in Stockholm would represent a bright spot in a season of mixed results and no shortage of controversy. For Dimitrov, it would represent a big step forward in his quest to appear in London at the World Tour Finals for the first time. But which man will get their shot at the title?
Dimitrov and Fognini have met five times so far in their careers. Their first meeting came four years ago in Sydney when Fognini destroyed Dimitrov 6-3 6-1 in the first round. Dimitrov, however, got his revenge later in the year at the Paris Masters, winning a three-set battle in the round of 32. He backed that win up with two clay court wins in Monte Carlo and Madrid, winning 6-3 6-4 then 3-6 6-2 7-5. Then, in their third match of the 2015 clay court season and their most recent meeting, it was Fognini’s turn to pick up the win in front of his home fans in Rome. After a tight opening set which Fognini won in a tiebreak 11-9, Dimitrov levelled the match in the second. But the Bulgarian couldn’t recover from going down an early break in the decider, losing it 0-6.
Path to the semifinals
Dimitrov, as the top seed, enjoyed a first round bye. He began against 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz. The giant Pole has enjoyed some great results in his career including the aforementioned Wimbledon run and also made the final in 2012 at the Paris Masters. But his form has been wayward for some years, and his ranking has fallen from a high of world #14 to #141. But he made Dimitrov work, eventually falling 7-5 7-6 after a valiant effort. Dimitrov next met fifth seed Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals. The German serve-volleyer is always a tricky opponent, but against Dimitrov, he struggled to make an impression with his net-rushing game. That said there was a flurry of late resistance as he denied Dimitrov on the Bulgarian’s first six match points before eventually falling 6-3 6-4.
Fognini’s tournament began with a straight sets win over Malek Jaziri in the first round. He backed this up with a hard-fought victory over local hope Elias Ymer, the 21-year-old, who is still attempting to turn his talent into a breakthrough on Tour. Fognini took the first set but Ymer fought back valiantly to level the match. In the decider, they could not be split and the final set went to a tiebreak. There Fognini’s experience told as he edged out the Swede nine points to seven to make the quarterfinals. Third seeded Jack Sock awaited him there, and he gave the Italian an almighty test. Sock took the first set in a tiebreak before Fognini levelled the match in another tiebreak. Ultimately, the Italian just edged the American after weathering a storm of Sock forehands. A late break in the third decided it as Fognini moved into the semis with a 6-7 7-6 7-5 win.
How do they match up?
Fognini is most comfortable on a clay court, and that shows in his preference from rallying from the baseline. Both his backhand and forehand are exceptionally solid shots when the Italian is focused. Although his footwork can occasionally appear suspect, it is, in fact, better than it looks. Where he can struggle is on the serve and particularly in the forecourt. No such problems exist for Dimitrov who is an excellent volleyer and has rediscovered the potency of his first serve this season. He has also been controlling points well with his forehand this year, which will be key against Fognini.
What may well prove to be key, however, is the mental aspect of the game. It is not the strongest part of the Dimitrov game, although he does appear to have made improvements this season. As for Fognini, he is arguably the most temperamental player on Tour. Countless times he has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to an emotional outburst or breakdown that has taken his mind from his tennis. Against a player of Dimitrov’s quality, he will not be able to afford such luxuries.
Dimitrov has a good history in Stockholm and has been playing well so far this week. The indoor surface also favours him against Fognini, particularly if he continues to serve well. It is hard to look past him unless Fognini delivers one of his very best performances. The Italian is capable of it, but expect Dimitrov to come through in straight sets.
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