Date/Time: Thursday 7th February 2019 (Kick-off 9:00 PM CET).
There are some big Ranking points for Fabio Fognini to defend on the clay courts over the next month, but the Italian is still very close to achieving his best World Ranking in his career. He remains inside the top 20 of the World Rankings, but Fognini could see a considerable drop if he is not able to produce his best tennis during the Golden Swing.
Over the last few years the Fognini numbers on the clay courts have been far from elite level, but he has managed to win plenty of matches on the surface. One of the main problems for Fognini is his serve is one that can be attacked, especially if he is failing to get enough first serves in play, while Fognini is never too far away from mentally checking out of sets.
That can see him drop sets by wide margins as he perhaps focuses on the next set rather than fighting to get back into one. It is a criticism of Fognini, but his tennis clearly works for him as he gets set for his first clay court match of the 2019 season.
He may not have been able to ask for a much better opponent as Fognini takes on Aljaz Bedene who was a strong winner in the First Round. A couple of years ago Bedene was in fantastic form on the clay courts and his numbers were very impressive, but last year they were back at a level that has been more in keeping with the rest of his career.
It was the Bedene serve which really sparked his strong 2017 showing on the clay courts as he held at 83% with 66% of points won behind serve. In 2018 those numbers dipped back to 73% and 61% respectively and Bedene is going to have some trouble picking up his play in this match.
Fabio Fognini has won all seven previous matches played against Bedene and he has won six of those on the clay courts. The numbers in those previous matches on the clay have seen Fognini hold serve at a much higher percentage than his usual level on this surface, while Bedene has only managed to hold 69% of service games played.
The last of those matches came last year in Rio de Janeiro and Fognini would have covered this number in four of six matches against Bedene on the clay courts including the last three in a row. He clearly enjoys this match up and I think Fognini can cover again as long as he doesn't take too long getting readjusted to tennis back on the clay courts.
The Italian's numbers are slightly superior to Bedene's overall, but you can see he has a clear edge when they have faced one another. I expect that to be the case again and I will look for Fabio Fognini to win by a wide enough margin to cover this number.
Prediction: Fabio Fognini - 2.5 Games