Italian Fabio Fognini said he was hoping to do “something big” at home as he beat France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Italian Open in Rome on Monday.
Tenth seed Fognini, who became the first Italian to triumph at Monte Carlo in 51 years last month, reached the quarter-finals in Rome last year before falling to champion Rafael Nadal in three sets.
“I’m happy, of course, happy because especially for me here, it’s always tough to play,” said the 31-year-old, who came through on the red clay of the Foro Italico in 83 minutes.
“To play a first round against Jo was really tough match, because of course he was injured. He had surgery on the knee.
“At the same time I knew that it could be really dangerous,” Fognini said.
Tsonga, now ranked 92nd, missed much of 2018 after knee surgery.
The Frenchman, had won four of the pair’s five meetings, but was broken in each set, with Fognini saving five of the six break points.
Fognini will next play either Moldovan Radu Albot, who beat him at Indian Wells, or French qualifier Benoit Paire.
The Italian could break into the top ten for the first time depending on his performance in Rome.
“I came in here with my best ranking... it’s not too far from the Top 10.
“The way I am playing, I feel confident,” Fognini said.
“I know that if I play like that I can do something big. But at the same time I know that it’s difficult, every day is different, every match is different. Every match, it’s really complicated.”
French 15th seed Gael Monfils crashed out in straight sets to Spaniard Alberto Ramos 6-3, 6-1.
Monfils had his knee bandaged during the second set before being swept aside by 88th-ranked Ramos.
“There’s no explication. Today I just had a bad match. I wasn’t in it, I didn’t have energy,” said Monfils.
Canadian Denis Shapovalov beat Spaniard Pablo Carreño-Busta 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) to advance to the second round.
Shapovalov, 20, will next play world number one and Madrid Open champion Novak Djokovic.
Defending Rome champion Nadal will have to wait to learn his second round opponent with the match between Richard Gasquet and fellow Frenchman Jeremy Chardy called off because of rain on Monday night at one set all 1-6, 6-4.
Nadal will be targeting a ninth title at the Italian Open before defending his Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros later this month.
Spain’s formerly invincible king of clay - who in most years would have at least clay title to hand upon arrival at Roland Garros - will have a last chance in Rome to pick up a trophy
“Sometimes winning a title or not doesn’t make a big difference,” insisted 11-time French Open winner.
“I didn’t win a title. At the same time it’s true that when I was playing, I was close to winning it.
“I didn’t play good enough to win, but I didn’t play very bad. I am there.
“I have been in four semi-finals in a row, since Indian Wells. But that’s it. That’s tennis: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”