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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 2, 2022

 
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Down a set and 2-4, Rafael Nadal roared through 16 of the last 19 games—and withstood a self-inflicted blow to the nose—to fend off Fabio Fognini at the US Open.

Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty

NEW YORK—Suffering is a prerequisite for Grand Slam success says Rafael Nadal.

A bruised and bloody Nadal persevered through the pain of a sluggish start and self-inflicted blow to prevail tonight.

Medvedev: Make No Mistake Nadal is US Open Favorite

Down a set and 2-4, Nadal roared through 16 of the last 19 games fighting off nemesis Fabio Fognini 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 to battle into the US Open third round.

Continuing his quest for a fifth US Open crown and men's record-extending 23rd Grand Slam championship, Nadal raised his major record to 21-0 in 2022. 

The biggest hurt of the night came midway through the fourth set when Nadal inadvertently knocked his racquet off the hard court and it ricocheted into the bridge of his nose drawing blood in a bizarre accident that left Nadal looking a little groggy.

"Yeah, it was just a little bit dizzy at the beginning and a little bit painful," Nadal told ESPN's Patrick McEnroe in his on-court interview afterward. "[I've done it before] with a golf club, but not with a tennis racquet."

The trainer came out on court to stop the blood and bandage Nadal's nose leaving the king of clay looking a little bit like the young Jack Nicholson from the film Chinatown.




Out of sorts at the start, Nadal said playing with positivity helped him overcome a horrific start that saw him drop serve five times in his first seven service games.

"Just try to play a little bit better because worst was difficult," Nadal said. "In some ways, I had to start to feel myself a little bit on court to put some balls in and just try to be on the match because for more than an hour and a half I was not competing, one of the worst starts probably ever.

"But yeah that's part of the game. You need to stay humble you need to accept the situation. It hasn't been an easy month for me so I know that this kind of stuff can happen. It's another opportunity for me. Still life after this means a lot. I cannot thank everyone enough for the support."

Seven years after a fiery Fognini made history as the first man to rally from two sets down to defeat Nadal at the US Open, the theatrical Italian exploited sustained sloppy play from the second set in an ideal start.

An unsettled Nadal slid a double fault wide giving Fognini the double break and a 5-2 lead. After one uncharacteristic miss, Nadal looked at coach Carlos Moya and raised his arms as if feeling a complete disconnect from the ball.

Across the net, Fognini was in cruise control. The Italian was straddling the baseline and striking smoothly. Nadal netted his favored forehand and skipped a backhand off the tape as Fognini earned a one-set lead after 34 minutes.

A flat Nadal was serving just 50 percent and clanked another double fault falling into double break point to start the second set. The second seed scattered a backhand down the line wide handing Fognini a third break to start the second set.

The Australian Open champion needed to make a stand and he did exactly that. Nadal dug in and extended points drawing a shanked response to break back.

Still, Nadal could not find his feel and ballooned a backhand beyond the baseline as Fognini earned his fourth break for a 2-1 lead. Though Fognini double-faulted away the break, a benevolent Nadal knocked a two-hander into net for the fifth consecutive break of the set.

By then, Fognini had broken in five of Nadal's first seven service games.




Serving up a set and a break at 4-3, Fognini was on course for a two set lead.

Out of nowhere, the 35-year-old Italian lost the plot as his lofty level of play dropped. Fognini clanked four unforced errors as Nadal surged through six points in a row to break back and hold for his first lead since the opening game of the match.

An increasingly erratic Fognini double-faulted to face a second set point. When the Italian lined a backhand into net, Nadal snatched the second set that featured seven service breaks in 10 games.

"I was trying to go for the shots since the beginning, but the shots were not there today," Nadal said. "To go for the shots I needed to be in the rhythm a little bit. I started to put three, two four balls in and then you can start to go for the shots because at the beginning every time I was hitting the ball was a chance to miss the ball. When this kind of days happen, hopefully not too often, you need to stay positive.

"You don't need to be frustrated because at the end if you are too frustrated you are not going to find the solution. So that's what I try. I just try to stay positive in some ways thinking the match is long and I need to put balls in and in some moment hopefully I will start to feel better. I was lucky honestly that Fabio make some mistakes in that second set and then I was able to win that second set and then things become a little bit more normal."

A reeling Fognini pulled off a sparkling shot sequence, cleanly picking off a forehand half volley then soaring for an exquisite high backhand volley winner to hold and snap a five-game slide.

After a disjointed set-and-a-half, Nadal was smoothing out his forehand swing lacing a forehand down the line that helped him earn break points in the fourth game. Nadal broke for 3-1 on an error, but followed with a horrid service game as Fognini broke back at love.




One electrifying shot can energize Nadal and the Arthur Ashe Stadium faithful. Reading the direction of a Fognini smash, Nadal sped to the spot and curled a brilliant forehand strike down the line inciting a roar from fans as he broke for the second time in a row for 4-2. 

A fitful Fognini hit his seventh double fault and slapped a shot into net as Nadal broke for a two-sets-to-one lead after two hours, three minutes of play.

A brilliant drop volley from Nadal helped him go up the early break in the fourth set.

Nadal was in complete command up 3-0 in the fourth set when he suffered a bizarre and painful cut to the bridge of his nose. A lunging Nadal was stretching for a backhand when his Babolat racquet bounced off the court and knocked him in the nose creating a cut on his nose that gurgled with blood.

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The four-time champion immediately dropped the racquet, walked to the sideline and lay down on his back as Fognini walked over to check on the fallen champion. The trainer came out to treat the cut to the bridge of Nadal's nose after two hours, 21 minutes.



Shutting his eyes at times, Nadal looked a little dazed by the self-inflicted blow. He climbed off the court and dropped into a double-break point hole. Fognini raced up to a drop shot, reflexed a fine volley, but a backpedaling Nadal nudged a backhand pass to save the second break point. Serving-and-volleying, Nadal snapped off a high forehand volley holding for 4-1.




When Fognini's final shot expired in net, Nadal was through to round three continuing his quest for a fifth US Open crown.

Next up for Nadal is former childhood rival Richard Gasquet, who defeated No. 32-seeded Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Nadal owns a 17-0 record vs. the Frenchman with the flashy one-handed backhand seizing 40 of the 44 sets they've played. 

 

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