Fabio Fognini fought past a resilient Mikhail Youzhny, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, to advance to the quarterfinals of the St. Petersburg Open.
It was the Italian’s first match since his controversial US Open exit, where he was dumped out in the first round by qualifier Stefano Travaglia in four sets and disqualified from the tournament after hurling derogatory remarks towards the female umpire.
He faced a tricky assignment in the last 16 but he was uncharacteristically zen through the near two-hour contest, only briefly allowing his emotions to get the better of him in the third set. The Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, who benefitted from a walkover against an ill Philipp Kohlschreiber, awaits in the last eight.
Not much could separate the pair during the opening set but it was a loose service game from Youzhny at 1-1 that gifted Fognini the all-important advantage.
It had been a wild cross-court backhand from the Russian that had confirmed the break and his consistency off that wing during the early exchanges was in stark contrast to Fognini’s.
The 30-year-old was controlling proceedings from the backhand side and the results were devastating when the Italian was able to step inside the baseline and drive the shot.
Youzhny, though, recovered from the early misfit and began to tighten up his groundstrokes. A break point arrived in the eighth game for the 35-year-old after battling back from 0-40 but the Fognini held his nerve to move a game away.
And set one was confirmed inside 41 minutes with a sumptuous drop shot that even the most partisan of Russian’s inside the Sibur Arena stood to applause.
The second stanza followed a similar pattern but Youzhny seemed to find an extra gear, crafting a pair of break points in the fourth game behind successive forehand passes.
Fognini saved both and he stood tall until he was staring at a 5-4 deficit with Youzhny pounding his backhand from every direction. A pair of inopportune double faults from the Italian left the door ajar for the Russian and he was aided on set point by a dismal drop shot from Fognini.
However, just as Youzhny was digesting the emotions of the second set the world number 29 set about correcting his mental mishaps.
An untimely double fault sharpened Fognini's focus and the Italian broke to 15 in the very opening service game. He consolidated with a love hold and was never under threat until the seventh game when Youzhny held a break point.
A forehand winner halted the advance and Fognini moved within inches of victory. Youzhny forced the 30-year-old to serve his way into the next round and he duly obliged.