Upset-ting for Nadal
At just 5ft 10, Fabio Fognini is quite a tough cookie to deal with. In the wee hours of New York this morning, Fognini did the unthinkable. From trailing 2 sets to love against one of greatest players of all-time, Rafael Nadal, Fognini displayed some masterful shot making to win the next 3 sets and cause the upset of the US Open 2015.
Nadal, who has had a forgettable season this year, was in a comfortable position. With the first 2 sets in his pocket and a break up in the third he served at 3-2. However Fognini, who has been Nadal’s nemesis this season, had other plans. Fognini broke Nadal to love and levelled the match at 3-3 in the third set.
Using a high risk, high reward approach Fognini found his range and started to take the game to his opponent. Unlike the first 2 sets where he battled from the baseline, he completely changed the texture of his game for the next 3. He made frequent forays to the net and took Nadal out of his comfort zone. He approached the net 54 times compared to Nadal’s 22 and won 39 of them, which translated to a whopping 72%.
Fognini’s game is beautiful to watch. Employing a compact swing off both flanks, he is a clean striker of the ball. His movement on court is quite commendable for a player of his height. In his third round match against Nadal, Fognini ripped winners from almost every part of the court.
He piled on a mammoth 70 winners, 40 more than Nadal. His unforced error count at 57 was more than three times that of Nadal’s. The winner-to-unforced error ratio was a snapshot of Fognini’s mindset. According to him it was the only way he could take down the gladiator on the other side.
Nadal, with the wealth of experience he possesses, did not make any change in his tactics. He continued to play from 6 feet behind the baseline and Fognini either played from on the baseline or at the net. As the match wore on Fognini dominated most of the rallies. In the final set, both players traded 7 consecutive service breaks before Fognini held ground to serve out the match.
On match point as Nadal’s weary backhand sailed wide, the Arthur Ashe stadium erupted in appreciation of the Italian underdog. For the first time in 10 long years, Nadal had failed to win a single Grand Slam in a calendar year.
Fognini managed to rout Nadal by winning a total of 154 points and 25 games. Nadal won a total of 152 points and 23 games. It was a close encounter with a nail biting finish.
The Origins of Fognini: past results
Currently ranked 32 in the world, Fognini has reached a career high ranking of 13 in singles.
Fondly called Fogna, he started playing tennis from the age of 4. Football and motorbike racing are amongst his other passions. He broke into the top 100 in the year 2007. One of the most significant victories of Fognini’s career was at the French Open in 2010, where he beat Gael Monfils after being 2 sets to love down.
His best performance in a Grand Slam was at the 2011 French Open, when he reached the quarter-finals. Clay is his favorite surface, and he has proved that in this season by defeating the King of Clay Rafael Nadal not once but twice during the European clay swing. His first win over Nadal was in the Final at Rio De Janeiro. This match was played at a very high level and finished in ungodly hours. Fognini’s second win over Nadal in Barcelona, an ATP 500 event that Nadal has won 8 times, was in straight sets.
Fognini’s 3rd victory over Rafael Nadal puts him in the elite company of 2 other male players – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Only Federer and Djokovic have defeated Nadal more than twice in a single season. What makes Fognini’s latest conquest of Nadal extra special is the fact that Fognini had not won even a single match out of his 17 previous attempts against a top 10 player on hard courts.
Nadal, who had a remarkable 151-0 record in Grand Slam matches after winning the first 2 Sets, looked dejected and wore a resigned look after losing the 3 hour 46 minute battle. Calling it just another loss, Nadal was full of praise for his Italian opponent.
In the post-match conference Fognini said, “If you want to play against him and if you want to do something different, you have to take risks. That's the only thing. Probably I make a lot of unforced errors, but it doesn't matter. You have to do that with a great player who runs a lot on the baseline.”
Fognini has definitely had one of his best seasons so far. After winning his first Grand Slam doubles title at the Australian Open 2015 alongside compatriot Simone Bolelli, he captured a career high ranking of 7 in Doubles.
In singles, however, his career haul of just 3 ATP titles belies his talent and quality shot making. The biggest reason of him not fulfilling his potential has been his temper flares and churlish behavior on court. There have been umpteen instances where he has lost matches after being in a commanding position. He has received scathing criticism and brickbats from media for not trying enough and being extremely nonchalant on court.
Fognini has also courted controversies and has been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
In this season, the Italian has learnt to manage his emotions better. This definitely has been the key in his latest rout of Rafael Nadal. After closing out the match Fognini looked at his box and pointed at his head – a cool and a calm one – pretty much summarizing why he scored the biggest upset of the US Open 2015 so far.
An interesting character, Fognini is known for his pranks off court and superstitions on it. He often fiddles with his necklace that is stringed with special mementos from his family and friends. An interesting statistic about him is that he holds the record for most number of foot faults – 12 – in a single victory.