Nadal Made To Work For Madrid Win

Spanish superstar sets up clash versus Kyrgios

Four-time champion Rafael Nadal extended his winning streak to 11 matches on Wednesday when he showed great heart in beating Fabio Fognini for a place in the Mutua Madrid Open third round.

Nadal, with an ATP World Tour-best 30 match wins on the season, recorded his fifth victory in seven clay-court meetings against Fognini 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 57 minutes on Court Manolo Santana.

“I think that even though I played really badly, my attitude has been very positive," said Nadal. "My attitude and the will to win today's match was there. My level of tennis was not so high today, but I managed to make it through. It was uncomfortable. I think before it wasn't so windy, but when I started playing, it was a really awful day. It was really windy.”

After watching Atletico Madrid play his Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League football semi-finals tonight, Nadal will prepare for Thursday’s third-round clash against Australian No. 16 seed Nick Kyrgios, who memorably beat the Spaniard at 2014 Wimbledon. Nadal got the better of Kyrgios over three sets at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May 2016.

“He's a very difficult opponent,” said Nadal. “He's one of the most difficult players you can play. It's true that I think on clay he's a very, very tough player… I have to play really well to be able to beat him. I think I'm ready to do that. We'll see what happens tomorrow. I don't know what's going to happen.”

The 30-year-old Nadal is 30-5 on the season, which includes his 10th title at both the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. He has won a record 51 clay-court crowns overall.

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Fognini, with his short racquet takeback and ability to slow ball, frustrated Nadal early on. In working the fourth seed around the court, the Italian broke for a 2-1 lead after a foray to the net resulted in a cute backhand volley winner. Playing close to the baseline, Fognini’s court position took advantage of Nadal preference to be deeper. It kept the Madrid crowd quiet.

Nadal, unusually flat on a court where he has won four titles, attempted to get himself pumped up, but came close to trailing 1-4 when Fognini held three break point opportunities. Despite holding and breaking Fognini after a 14-point rally, Nadal fell behind again and was forced to save a set point at 3-5, Advantage, with a solid serve out wide.

Self-doubt crept into Fognini’s game as he served for the opener. A wild forehand flew wide at 15/40 and although he won the first three points in Nadal’s next service game, Fognini was unable to capitalise. Fognini hit an ace out wide to save one set point for Nadal at 5-6, Advantage, en route to a tie-break. Having been on the back foot for the majority of the match, Nadal won four straight points from 3/3 and sealed the 81-minute set when Fognini hit a forehand wide.

Fognini, one of the most naturally talented players on the ATP World Tour, regrouped after saving one break point in the first game of the second set. His touch and court positioning continued to throw Nadal out of his rhythm and he earned a 3-1 lead with a perfectly timed sliced backhand drop shot. Although Nadal continued to fight, he was unable to reel in Fognini – despite two break point chances in the fifth game.

At 5-4, 40/15, a net cord winner off a backhand gave Fognini the set and ended Nadal’s run of winning 20 consecutive sets dating back to his second-round win over Kyle Edmund at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

In a tense decider, Nadal tightened up his game, and through six games – including a break of Fognini’s serve to 15 for a 4-2 advantage – the Spanish star committed two errors. When the Mallorcan came to serve for the match at 5-3, he wobbled and a rare wild forehand gave Fognini a way back into the pair’s 12th meeting.

A wounded Nadal retaliated, but on match point with Fognini serving at 4-5, 30/40, the Italian struck a fearless forehand winner into space off a return. At the second time of asking, two powerful forehands by Nadal caught Fognini off-balance and he celebrated a memorable win.

Earlier in the day, Kyrgios overcame Ryan Harrison 6-3, 6-3 in 59 minutes for his 18th match win of the year, which include three semi-final appearances in Marseille, Acapulco and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Miami.

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