Flashback: The Day Fognini Shocked Nadal In Monte Carlo
Fabio Fognini walked onto Court Rainier III for the semi-finals of last year’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters with nothing to lose. The Italian had plenty to gain, trying to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 final. But across the net was Rafael Nadal, an 11-time champion in the Principality.
Nadal had won six consecutive ATP Head2Head clashes against Fognini, winning 12 of their 14 sets during that stretch to take an 11-3 lead in their rivalry. Fognini had shown his propensity to find his best level in the big moments, but beating Nadal where the Spaniard owned a 71-4 record seemed a titanic challenge.
However, Fognini was unafraid, as the Italian had already been on the brink of defeat during the tournament. Fognini entered the event on a five-match clay-court losing streak and looked set to fall to a sixth straight defeat on the surface in his opening match. But after Andrey Rublev led the Italian 6-4, 4-1, Fognini found his best tennis to survive, and later defeated then-World No. 3 Alexander Zverev and ninth seed Borna Coric en route to the semi-finals.
"If you told me at the beginning of the week, I will see you on Sunday, I would [have] laughed in your face," said Fognini. "I was 6-4, 4-1 down and break point for 5-1, and I [hit an] ace on the line. But that's incredible sport. So I was lucky.”
Fognini was the heavy underdog, but he took confidence from two of his three previous wins against Nadal coming on clay.
"I was telling him yesterday that I [knew I had] the game to play against him," Fognini said. "Sometimes I won a few matches. [I won] one crazy one at the US Open and two times on clay. So I knew that I had nothing to lose, because, of course, especially when you go with him on clay, it's always really tough."
Fognini produced the performance of his career, stunning Nadal 6-4, 6-2 to reach the championship match. He claimed 11 of 14 games from 1-3 down in the first set to upset the then 33-time Masters 1000 champion after one hour and 36 minutes. Fognini's victory ended Nadal’s 18-match and 25-set winning streaks in the Principality.
"I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years," Nadal said. "When that happens, you have to lose. And today I deserved to lose because I played against a player that was better than me today."
Fognini joined Novak Djokovic as the only players to defeat Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Country Club after the quarter-finals. He also followed in the footsteps of Djokovic, David Ferrer (2014) and Guillermo Coria (2003) as the only men to beat Nadal in Monaco.
Then 31, Fognini took time away from Nadal at every opportunity, striking any available short balls to push Nadal out of position and into errors. That propelled him into the final against Serbian Dusan Lajovic, another first-time Masters 1000 finalist.
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Fognini took full advantage of his big win against Nadal, defeating Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 to become the first Italian Masters 1000 titlist.
"I just feel happy because I won a big tournament that was always my goal in my career," Fognini said. "I think everybody, when you're growing up and you start and you decide to play tennis, you are dreaming to win a big tournament. We are talking about a Masters ."
Two months later, Fognini became the oldest player to break into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time since 38-year-old Ken Rosewall and 35-year-old Rod Laver on 23 August 1973, when the ATP Rankings were first established. Fognini was just the third Italian man to crack the elite group, joining Adriano Panatta and Corrado Barazzutti. The trio was later joined by Matteo Berrettini.