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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, August 1, 2015

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal won nine of the first 10 games dismissing Andreas Seppi, 6-1, 6-2, to reach his fourth final of the year in Hamburg.

Photo credit: Tennis Championships am Rothenbaum

It was moving day in Hamburg. A free-flowing Rafael Nadal gave Andreas Seppi the runaround returning to the Hamburg final for the first time in seven years.

Playing perhaps his most assertive clay-court tennis of the season, Nadal rampaged through nine of the first 10 games then bounced back from a medical time-out to wrap up an impressive 6-1, 6-2 triumph.

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The top-seeded Spaniard will face a familiar nemesis, Fabio Fognini, in tomorrow's final that shapes up as a battle of former champions. The eighth-seeded Fognini dissected French qualifier Lucas Pouille, 6-2, 7-6 (2), in the day's first semifinal.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion has won four of six meetings with the theatrical Fognini, but the talented Italian has prevailed in two of their three clay-court matches, including both of their meetings on dirt this season. Fognini snapped Nadal's 52-match winning streak in clay-court semifinals with a 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 semifinal triumph in Rio de Janeiro last February. The Australian Open doubles champion followed that up with a 6-4, 7-6 (6) win in their most recent clash in Barcelona last April.

Exuding energy and intensity from the coin toss today, Nadal burst out of the blocks with three forehand winners in the opening game. That matched the total number of winners he produced in the first set of his 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 conquest of compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the opening round.

Striking with confidence and hitting with greater depth than he had earlier in the week, Nadal broke at 15 to open the match. The 14-time Grand Slam champion fired a fourth forehand winner in backing up the break at love for a 2-0 lead.

The 6-foot-3 Seppi is a control-orientated player who does not serve as big as his size suggests. His predictability on first serve—Seppi lacks the percolating kick serve to back his opponent off the baseline—combined with the fact Nadal was ripping his forehand with fierce intent, enabled the top seed to take the first strike and dictate rallies from the baseline.

Nadal broke for the third consecutive time opening up a commanding 5-0 lead. Seppi looked powerless to stop the onslaught, managing just five points in the first five games.

Holding double set point at 40-15, Nadal briefly stumbled. A double-fault followed by a let-cord winner brought the Italian to deuce for the first time all day. A couple of crosscourt backhands earned Seppi the break, avoiding a humbling bagel.

Misery returned in the next game. Desperate to try to get off the defensive, Seppi tried a surprise serve-and-volley but netted a routine forehand volley to face three more set points. This time, Nadal needed only one swooping forward to knock off a high forehand volley closing a 28-minute demolition with his 10th winner compared to four for his opponent.

Whipping a forehand down the line for his fifth straight break, Nadal was in complete control with a 2-0 second set lead. At that point, it looked unlikely the world No. 26 could push the semifinal past the one hour mark.

Dishing out punishment all day, Nadal felt the pain of a strain apparently near his right rib cage after hitting a forehand. He abruptly stopped play, called for the trainer and was treated for the apparent strain, later taking medicine for a possible stomach ailment as well.

Returning to the court, Nadal won four straight points to extend the lead to 3-0 before Seppi finally held.

There were plenty of positives for Nadal in this match. The 2008 champion moved well, ripped his forehand with ambition and accuracy, closed at net and for the most part played with confidence against an outclassed opponent he's beaten six times in seven matches. On the hottest day of the tournament, Nadal's twisting topspin largely neutered Seppi's best weapon, the two-handed backhand, and displaced the lanky Italian into defensive positions.

It wasn't a completely flawless performance. Serving for his fourth final of the year, Nadal tightened up losing some depth and pace on serve. He spun his third double fault into net giving Seppi his second break.

Seppi saved a match point with a forehand swing volley before Nadal sealed a strong 80-minute victory, reaching his fourth final of the year and raising his Hamburg record to 15-2.


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