ATP Barcelona: Rafael Nadal battles past Fabio Fognini into semifinals

Rafael Nadal had to overcome some poor form in the second set combined with some remarkable hitting from Fabio Fognini to avenge his 2015 defeat in Barcelona, ousting the 12th seeded Italian 6-2, 7-6(1) to return to the semifinals of the Barcelona Open for the first time since winning the title in 2013.

Rock-solid Nadal powers through opening set

Rafael Nadal had a slightly worrying start to the match when he blew a big lead and was pushed to deuce in the opening game. But the eight-time champion held which seemed to give him confidence. He immediately raced ahead 15-40 in Fognini’s first service game and broke at the second time of asking when Fognini hit a drop shot into the net. Two games later, Nadal would break again when he drew an error on his third break point of the game for a double-break lead.

Nadal blasts a backhand. Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Nadal blasts a backhand. Photo: Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

The massive deficit seemed to shock the Italian into action. He roared back and broke Nadal to love in the following game and then held to 15 to close the gap to 4-2. But the top seed stopped the run in the following game, holding for 5-2, and then put pressure on his opponent as he served to stay in the set. Nadal brought up a set point on Fognini’s serve at 30-40, but could not convert. Another set point came and went when he drove his backhand long, but the third time would be the charm when the Italian drove a backhand into the net at 40-AD to give Nadal the opening set.

Nadal battles back for victory

Between sets, Fognini had the trainer out to take a look at his shoulder. While he continued to play, he told the umpire that he would like the trainer again at the first changeover. But before that changeover, the damage was already done as Nadal would break once again in Fognini’s first service game. However, Nadal once again blew a lead in his service game and Fognini broke with a beautiful crosscourt backhand passing shot winner.

Fabio Fognini blasts a forehand. Photo: Miquel Llop/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Fabio Fognini blasts a forehand. Photo: Miquel Llop/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After being near perfect in the opening set, Nadal’s level was going downhill quickly. An error strewn return game allowed Fognini to level before the Spaniard, for the second service game in a row, blew a 40-15 lead and was broken. Suddenly, Fognini was up a break. Nadal came out flying in the next game, racing ahead double break point, but could not convert and Fognini went on to hold. Serving for the set, the Italian found himself in trouble when Nadal reached break point again, but he saved it with a perfect serve up the T. The top seed was not discouraged as he won a massive point at deuce with a huge forehand winner and this time Fognini drove a forehand long on break point to knot the set at 5-5.

After Nadal held, the Italian found himself serving to stay in the match two games after he’d served for the set. The momentum was firmly with the eight-time champion, as he raced ahead 0-40 and triple match point. But Fognini was not done yet, and he saved all three with some brilliant shot-making. It would take several deuces, but eventually the Italian forced a tiebreak.

Nadal tees up a forehand. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Nadal tees up a forehand. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

In the breaker, Nadal won an epic net exchange on the first point, before back-to-back Fognini unforced errors gave Nadal a 3-0 lead. The top seed was in full control, winning both his service points for a 5-0 lead. The Italian finally got on the board when he managed to lob Nadal for a winner, but it was too little too late as a shanked forehand gave Nadal five more match points. There was no magic for the Italian, as the eight-time champion ended the match with an unreturnable serve.

By the numbers

Fabio Fognini was the aggressor in this match, throwing the kitchen sink at Nadal and being rewarded with 30 winners, nearly triply his opponent. However, he lost more than he won with 37 unforced errors to Nadal’s 16. While his numbers were not as big, 11 winners and 16 unforced errors, Nadal applied more pressure on Fognini’s serve, reaching break point 16 times and converting five of them, while also limiting the Italian to eight points on his second serve. The Spaniard did not save a break point in the match, but he only faced three.

Nadal now awaits the winner of Andrey Kuznetsov and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the semifinals. Every time Nadal has made in past the quarterfinals in Barcelona, he has gone on to win the title.