Fabio Fognini: Italian has greater amount of confidence and can flourish on clay
But expect Spain's Fernando Verdasco to enjoy strong spring
By Leif Shiras. Last Updated: 14/04/14 4:11pm
Believe in better: Fognini's confidence levels have shot up, says Leif
Fabio Fognini's bravado is now backed up with real belief and he can enjoy a stellar clay-court season, says Leif Shiras.
Fognini has risen to 13th in the world rankings this term after beating Leonardo Mayer in the Chile Open final and finishing runner-up to David Ferrer in Buenos Aires.
The Italian also reached the round of 16 in the Australian Open, as well as in the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, and helped his country overcome Great Britain in the Davis Cup quarter-finals.
And after watching Fognini battle to a three-set victory over Joao Sousa in his opening match at the Monte Carlo Masters to take his win-loss record on the 2014 ATP Tour to 22-6, Sky Sports pundit Shiras backed the 26-year-old to flourish on the red dirt this spring.
"He gets just enough on his serve but can then do what he wants because he is lighting fast."
"Fognini has never lacked confidence - he likes the fact everyone is looking at him on a tennis court and he wants to put on a show - but now the confidence is real and he doesn't have to fool himself," said Shiras, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1989.
"He gets just enough on his serve but he can then do what he wants to do because he is a great talent and is lighting fast around the court - and maybe he will be in the top 10 soon."
"He continues to win matches that he might not have won in the past and is in a good place mentally for someone who has been so up-and-down over the years.
"So he is a very dangerous player - although he is mercurial and can be vulnerable at times - and if he can win 50 matches he could end up at the O2 Arena for the ATP World Tour Finals."
Fognini - who beat Andy Murray and James Ward in singles action in the Davis Cup in Naples - has three clay-court titles to his name, with February's triumph in Vina del Mar adding to last year's victories in Stuttgart and Hamburg.
The 2011 French Open quarter-finalist is, therefore, one of the leading candidates to test clay-court king Rafael Nadal and World No 2 Novak Djokovic on the red surface over the coming weeks.
But Shiras also feels that the reigning Australian Open champion, a talented Bulgarian and a veteran Spaniard could thrive on the clay during the European swing, which you can watch on Sky Sports.
"Stan Wawrinka is playing the sort of tennis that suggests he could make a run on his favourite surface, while Grigor Dimitrov is someone who can raise his game," added Shiras.
Fernando Verdasco is a former Grand Slam semi-finalist
"Fernando Verdasco is healthy, too.
"He has had some physical problems that have bothered him for 18 months to two years but he is back winning matches and having great success in doubles as well.
"We know he can deliver on clay - he got to the Monte Carlo final in 2010 where he lost to Nadal - and has weapons that force top players to work."
Watch the Monte Carlo Masters, all week on Sky Sports 3.