Monte Carlo Masters 2019: How Fognini stunned Nadal to reach the final
Most tennis fans would be forgiven for assuming that Rafael Nadal was nailed on to seal a 12th title in the principality. But a certain Italian produced an unstoppable performance yesterday to stun Nadal and shock the world.
Step forward Fabio Fognini, who simply blew Nadal off the court with some mesmerizing tennis. The 31-year-old outplayed the Spaniard, dominating the baseline exchanges to set up a final today against Serbia's Dusan Lajovic.
Nadal, 32, was simply unsettled by the explosive Italian. Fognini is known as someone who gets very animated on court, and that has frequently troubled Nadal. The 17-time Grand Slam champion was out of his element and could perhaps still be suffering from the knee injury that put him out of action last month.
Fognini is now one of the very elite band of players to have beaten Nadal on a claycourt at least three times. In fact, the Italian nearly bagelled the Spaniard, who saved face somewhat by winning two games at 0-5 in the second set before eventually losing 6-4, 6-2.
It is no secret that Fognini is a good tennis player. He’s beaten several top players in the past, and has frequently regaled the spectators with his brilliant shot-making. In the 2014 Davis Cup quarter-finals he played a near perfect clay-court match on the coast of Naples to beat Andy Murray, who was then in his prime.
The major question marks around Fognini are always about consistency and commitment. He’s currently 18 in the world, but the tennis he produces at times makes you wonder why he is not firmly entrenched in the top 10.
The enigmatic Italian certainly appears to be a late bloomer. He comes from the same generation as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic; all three are 31, and grew up playing juniors together. But Fognini has certainly not lived up to his full potential until now - at least not compared to Murray and Djokovic.
It will be very interesting to see if the Italian can back up his win over Nadal and win a first Masters 1000 title, or whether he gets caught up in the moment and loses a winnable final.
In yesterday’s interview with Amazon Prime, Fognini looked more interested in the fans than in discussing his win. That makes you wonder if he will underestimate Dusan Lajovic and spurn what is a glorious chance to win the biggest tournament of his career.
The Serb is also be in his first Masters 1000 final, but cannot be underestimated considering he has beaten both David Goffin and Dominic Thiem this week. He has almost nothing to lose as the underdog today.
As far as Nadal is concerned, he moves on to the Barcelona Open aiming to win a 12th title there. But his defeat to Fognini will have left doubts in his mind. And with such a strong field competing in Barcelona, his opponents will have been lifted in knowing the Spaniard may not be so invincible on clay after all.