Barcelona Open: Another blow for Nadal, as Fognini scores second win

Rafael Nadal suffers a straight-sets defeat by Italy's Fabio Fognini in the third round of the Barcelona Open

Fabio Fognini may be one tennis’s most unpredictable players—by turn a charismatic shot-maker or a car-crash of errors and temper—but in one thing this year, he has proved to be consistent: beating Rafael Nadal.

Not that he managed to get the better of Nadal in their first four matches, but with signs that the flamboyant Italian has been returning to something like his clay form this year, he beat Nadal in the Rio semi-finals and, to prove that lightening really can strike twice in the same place, beat him again in Barcelona to advance to the quarter-finals.

Nadal’s defeat was another blow to the confidence of this surface’s outstanding performer.

Last week, the eight-time Monte Carlo champion failed to reclaim the title for the third straight year. This week, in a tournament that he has also won eight times—putting together a 41-match streak—he was again unable to reclaim the title in front of this partisan home crowd.

Indeed, Nadal’s straight sets loss to Fognini, 6-4, 7-6(6), is his earliest exit since his debut as a 15-year-old in 2003 when he lost to Alex Corretja in three sets in the second round.

For the No13 seed Fognini, this was only his second match-win in Barcelona in this his sixth visit, and only his third win since that final run in Rio earlier this year.

He certainly looked confident, no doubt buoyed up by his last meeting with Nadal, and went on the attack at the first opportunity. He brought up a break-point chance in the sixth game with a glorious off-backhand winner but Nadal held on, as did Fognini when challenged in the next game.

Serving at 4-5, Nadal went down 0-30, and then 30-40, but a wild forehand from Fognini went wide on set point. However at deuce, the Italian played the same shot, this time for a winner and another set point. He pounded a big forehand return and chased in for a volley finish, 6-4.

His attacking tactics had been rewarded with 16 winners to Nadal’s seven, but a marathon opening game to the second set looked as though it may turn the tide. It took six deuces and five break points before Nadal made the break, helped by a flurry of errors from Fognini.

However, that was the first of several breaks. Nadal held the advantage at 4-2, only for Fognini to level 4-4, as both struggled to find consistency. Nadal broke again to serve for the set, but three consecutive errors from the Spaniard gave Fognini another opening, and he took it with relish, chasing down a smash in the extreme corner of the court to fire a winner round the net-post to break.

It would go to a tie-break that encapsulated the set: Fognini took a 4-1 lead, Nadal pulled him back, the Italian reached 6-3, Nadal levelled 6-6. But not for the first time, Nadal mishit a shot to offer Fognini a fourth bite of the cherry, and on the dot of two hours, Fognini served it out, 7-6(6).

The Italian will now play another Spaniard, Pablo Andujar, who beat Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-4. And in the same quarter, the four-time finalist David Ferrer must have heaved a sign of relief to see Nadal beaten before their potential semi meeting: It was Nadal who beat him in all those Barcelona finals.

Ferrer, already with three titles to his name this year, advanced to a 26-4 run with a 6-3, 6-4 win over19-year-old wild card Elias Ymer and will next face Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat Benoit Paire, 6-4, 7-6(6).

In the top half, defending champion Kei Nishikori won a re-match of last year’s final by beating No15 seed Santiago Giraldo, 6-2, 6-1. He now plays No7 seed, and one of the four remaining Spaniards in the draw, Roberto Bautista Agut, who beat Pablo Cuevas, 7-6(5), 6-2.

The remaining Spaniard in the quarter-final line-up is veteran No9 seed Tommy Robredo, the 2004 Barcelona champion, who beat Marcel Granollers, 6-2, 6-2.

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