By Chris Oddo/ Friday, October 4, 2013
Rafael Nadal came back from the brink of defeat to defeat Fabio Fognini, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 at the China Open on Friday, moving the Spaniard just one victory from returning to the ATP's No. 1 ranking.
Rafael Nadal came back from the brink of defeat to edge past Fabio Fognini in three tough sets at the China Open on Friday in Beijing.
Photo Source:Andy Wong/ AP
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With the victory, Nadal improves his current winning streak to 20 matches, and pushes his 2013 hard court record to a tidy 25-0.
The evening started ominously for Nadal, who scraped his left knee on the abrasive hard court surface while lunging for a ball on the very first point of the match. Nadal seemed rattled for much of the first set even though he did not appear to be in physical pain. The Spaniard, who spent seven months on the sidelines with knee problems before returning to the sport this February, sought treatment on court after the third game, and while his nerves appeared to be calmed after the meeting with medical staff, he could do nothing about quelling the inspired, high-octane game of Fognini in the early going.
Fognini took command of points, moving Nadal around with an eery, uncanny ease, out-hitting him at times and out-thinking him at others as he raced to a 5-1 lead. Nadal would finally gain some traction in the seventh game with a break, but his push would be short-lived, as the Italian broke the Spaniard for a third time in the next game, closing out his first career set in three matches against Nadal.
Fognini, who is aiming to become the first Italian to finish a season in the ATP's top 20 since 1978, kept the momentum on his side of the court in the second set, and several times he made jaw-dropping shots that left Nadal rolling his eyes and the Beijing faithful, many of whom carried Nadal flags, in shock.
With Nadal facing double-break point and down 3-0, Fognini looked to be headed for a quick and decisive—shocking—victory, but Nadal wouldn't waver in his pursuit of the Italian, and like he has done so many times, he found a way to gut out with the hold.
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Nadal would have to save another critical break point while serving at 4-1, and then wobble his way through five failed break point attempts in the next game before finally breaking through on a sixth when a tired Fognini backhand from the mid-court sailed wide, but once Nadal found himself on even terms, the damage was done to Fognini's fragile psyche.
He held for 4-all then raced through the final two games to close the set.
After trading holds with the Italian in the decider, Nadal would sink his teeth fully into Fognini, running away with the final five games to clinch the victory in two hours and 15 minutes.
For Fognini, who twice came within one point of serving for the match with a double-break lead, the disappointment was palpable. Having lost to Nadal in straight sets twice this season, he appeared to be headed to an easy victory in Beijing. If there was a lesson to be learned, it is that racing out to a lead against Nadal is one thing, but finishing off a victory against the 27-year-old Spaniard, who improves to a mind-blowing 64-3 on the season with the victory, is entirely another.
Nadal will face either Tomas Berdych or John Isner in the semifinals, and if he can manage win in that match, he'll have claimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time in over two years, regardless of his result in the final.