The Italian with a strong character did not necessarily have this scenario in mind. Two months ago during the Estoril tournament in Portugal, he had drawn up a lucid and very harsh statement towards himself.

"I'm in the worst moment of my career," he said, just after getting only his second victory of the season against his compatriot Alessandro Giannessi, 224th player in the world.

"I can beat anyone"

His other victory, Fognini had obtained it against the Czech Tomas Barrios Vera, 196th in the world, in Rio two months earlier. Not something to boast about.

"But I think I still have the level to improve my ranking. On a good day, I can beat anyone," added the Italian to Estoril, proof of his temperament and intact confidence while he has already started, like other old briscards, his last rounds on the circuit.

Italy's Fabio Fognini has just beaten Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in the 1st round of the Roland-Garros tournament on May 29, 2023 in Paris © Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Before arriving at Roland-Garros, the winner of the Masters 1000 of Monte Carlo in 2019 had scored four new successes, including two at the Masters 1000 of Rome at home in Italy, against Andy Murray (42nd) and Miomir Kecmanovic (37th). A too poor record, not necessarily likely to predict a nice course in the Parisian tournament for the former resident of the Top 10, who has not won a title since 2019, nor a second week in Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2021.

But the air of the Porte d'Auteuil seems to do good to this player from the Italian Riviera. With two wins in three sets, against a member of the Top 10, the Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime (10th), certainly diminished by a painful shoulder, then against the Australian Jason Kubler (69th), he has only one step to go to reach the eighth-finals, Friday against the Austrian Sebastian Ofner, 118th in the world.

"I beat a Top 10 in three sets, it's never easy (...) I'm happy yes," he said after his victory against the Canadian.

A beautiful sequence for this striking player, whimsical, artistic, but also sometimes rude, with memorable blood strokes, some worthy of the commedia dell'arte.

His spat with certain players, his -- many -- misconducts, which had earned him an exclusion from the US Open in 2017 after insulting a linesman, have marked his career, cataloguing him in the list of +bad boys+ of world tennis.

Italy's Fabio Fognini during his 1st round match at Roland Garros against Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime on May 29, 2023 in Paris © Thomas SAMSON / AFP/Archives

He has also admitted several times his complex personality, sometimes putting in the background the player with a totally separate style, able to drag his feet the air of not wanting to be there, before releasing magic shots, with incredible touch.

"Great to watch play"

"Beyond his personality, he is an absolutely great player to see play, he uses variations to perfection, a style that denotes on the circuit," said of him a former French tennis executive after his title in Monte-Carlo.

His rivalry on clay with Nadal, whom he beat three times on this surface (Rio and Barcelona in 2015, Monte-Carlo in 2019), had made him one of the men to follow as soon as spring came the tip of his nose.

But for several years now, he is not really in the spotlight. The results no longer follow... "I'm close to the end of my career," he admitted at the Hamburg tournament in 2022.

And like other thirty-somethings close to the end of their career, Fognini necessarily has a little trouble accepting his twilight, still capable of bursts of brilliance. A presence in the second week of Roland-Garros could perhaps extend his unexpected awakening.

© 2023 AFP