ATP Miami: Rafael Nadal serves into fifth Miami final

The rule of three remains true at the Miami Open for Rafael Nadal. Starting in 2005, the Spaniard reached the final in Miami every three years and the trend continued through 2017, as Nadal booked his spot in his fifth Miami final on Friday, taking out Fabio Fognini in the semifinals in straight sets. The four-time runner-up in Miami had one of the best serving performances of his entire career, dropping only nine points on serve in the entire match, blowing Fognini off the court 6-1, 7-5.

Nadal comes out flying

Nadal’s aggressive mindset was clear right from the start, as the Spaniard came out firing, breaking 120 MPH on his serve in his opening game, which he held to love. A big forehand winner gave him a 0-30 opening on Fognini’s serve in the following game, but the Italian would claw back and hold. Nadal kept coming, taking another 0-30 lead in his next return game and this time stretched it to 0-40 thanks to a Fognini backhand into the net. The Spaniard only needed one break point to grab an early break when the Italian netted a forehand.

Nadal rips a forehand during his semifinal win. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
Nadal rips a forehand during his semifinal win. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

After holding to love to consolidate, Nadal went back to work on his opponent’s serve. Fognini seemed to be getting his foothold back as he took a 40-love lead, only for Nadal to reel off five straight points, including a smash into the net on break point from the Italian, to take a double-break lead and a chance to serve out the set. Needing to find an answer to Nadal’s so far impenetrable serve to stay alive, Fognini would have his best return game of the set in the seventh set, but still had no answers as the fifth seed held to wrap up the opening set after only 26 minutes.

Fognini wears down

Nadal seemed ready to put the match away in the opening game of the second set, when he continued to blow his groundstrokes through the Italian and brought up a break point, but missed his return and Fognini would go on to hold for his first lead of the match. Despite dodging the first bullet, Fognini seemed finished when more errors put him behind 0-40 in the next game. Once again, the Italian re-found his form just long enough to erase all three, two with winners, one by drawing a forehand into the net from Nadal, before holding after three deuces.

Fognini continued to struggle to find consistency, having to battle through a third consecutive long game the next time he stepped to the line, needing five deuces to hold, although this time he did not face a break point. Nadal, meanwhile, continued to cruise along in his service games. In the opening three games of the set, which Fognini needed a combined 11 deuces and 40 points to hold, the Spaniard only played 13 points, winning 12 of them. The seventh game, which the Italian held for a 4-3 lead, was the first of the match where he did not face either a break point or a deuce.

Fabio Fognini reacts to losing a point during his semifinal loss. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
Fabio Fognini reacts to losing a point during his semifinal loss. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

After finally finding some consistency midway through the second set, the wheels started to come off for Fognini again at 5-4. After missing a second serve return, the Italian threw his racquet to the ground in frustration as Nadal went on to hold. In the following game, back-to-back errors from Fognini gave Nadal a 0-30 lead. Despite the fifth seed allowing him back in the game with errors of his own, The Italian’s inability to put serves in play proved costly, as Nadal would take advantage of a second serve, eventually forcing Fognini to miss a drop shot to bring up break point, before the Italian double faulted to surrender the break. Serving for the match, the Spaniard made no mistake, smacking three unreturnable serves on his way to a love hold a spot in the final.

By the numbers

Nadal’s service numbers were outstanding, as the Spaniard won 80 percent or above on both his first and second serves (83 percent on first serve, 80 percent on second), only losing nine points on serve in the entire match. He pounded six aces, no double faults, and did not face a break point. While Fognini was decent on his first serve, he was made to suffer when he missed it, which was often with only 55 percent of first serve points put in play.

In the final, Nadal awaits the winner between Nick Kyrgios and arch-rival Roger Federer, who has beaten Nadal twice already in 2017, including the Australian Open final and a fortnight ago in Indian Wells. Federer was responsible for the first of Nadal’s four defeats in Miami finals. Miami is the only event where Nadal has reached four finals without having ever won the title.