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ROME, ITALY - MAY 18: Fabio Fognini of Italy reacts during his 3rd round match against Alexander Zverev of Germany in The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2017 at Foro Italico on May 18, 2017 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Joel Drucker: Tiafoe vs. Fognini - Two Men on Two Roads

Court 16 at Roland Garros holds a scant 384 people. But the fourth match that will take place on it today at Roland Garros is among the today’s most intriguing, a showcase of two players on very different paths.

Frances Tiafoe makes his Roland Garros main draw debut. Ranked 108 at the end of 2015, the 19-year-old American has methodically made his way up the charts and is now ranked 68 in the world.

But while Tiafoe is in the bright dawn of the pro tennis journey, an eager and engaged competitor, his opponent has long wandered in and out of the shadows that define a career of talent displayed and talent squandered.

What to make of Fabio Fognini? The 30-year-old Italian personifies the word “enigmatic.” On the good days, when the mood seems to strike him, Fognini’s silky-smooth strokes crackle with an ease and command that inspire swooning. But tip Fognini in another direction, oh just so slightly, and he melts, if not always rapidly, then strand by strand – nearly to the brink. Yet then, just when it seems he’d ready to roll over, Fognini’s indifference – perhaps even downright disgust – will leave him relaxed enough to rattle off more winners from odd positions. Flavoring the mix: Fognini’s strut and shrug – the signs of a world-weary warrior.

In theory, Fognini as the 28th seed and an experienced claycourter, should be a comfortable favorite. But then there is Tiafoe, far from jaded, seeking to put theory into practice, the whole path ahead of him.

Read more articles by Joel Drucker

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