Final For Fabio!

Fabio Fognini produced the performance of his career on Saturday to stun 11-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-2 at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, advancing to his first ATP Masters 1000 final.

Fognini claimed 11 of 14 games from 1-3 down in the first set to stun the 33-time Masters 1000 champion after one hour and 36 minutes. Fognini’s fourth victory in 15 FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters against the 80-time tour-level titlist ends 18-match and 25-set winning streaks for Nadal in the Principality.

“I was telling him yesterday that I [knew I had] the game to play against him,” said Fognini. “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, I mean, it’s always really tough.”

This is just the second time the World No. 18 has claimed victory against Top 2 opposition, adding to his 2017 triumph over then-World No. 1 Andy Murray at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

Fognini entered the tournament on a five-match losing streak on clay 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 and he has not looked back. Fognini defeated World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, ninth seed Borna Coric and Nadal to reach the championship match at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.

“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. Now I’m in the final. And of course I go for the title tomorrow.”

Fognini will meet first-time tour-level finalist Dusan Lajovic for the trophy. Lajovic, who is yet to drop a set in the Principality this week (10-0), recovered from 1-5 down in the first set to beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1. Fognini and Lajovic have never met at tour-level.

“It’s a surprise final, because of course both of us [were] not favorites [in the matches] today,” said Fognini. “He played really good and really solid during the whole week, because I saw him play against Dominic. I saw him playing the first match and he beat Goffin. And even if Medvedev was really tight, he was 1-5 down in the first set, and he was really good.

“I think it’s going to be really tough. He has nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose. We start 50/50. Even if the ranking [says] I’m higher than him, I know that I have to run a lot tomorrow.”

Fognini joins Novak Djokovic as the only player to defeat Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Country Club after the quarter-finals. Djokovic snapped Nadal’s 46-match win streak in the Principality to claim the 2013 title and also defeated the Spaniard in the last four in 2015.

The eight-time tour-level titlist is just the fourth man to defeat Nadal at the third Masters 1000 event of the year. The 31-year-old adds his name next to Novak Djokovic (2013, ’15), David Ferrer (2014) and Guillermo Coria (2003) on the exclusive list.

Fognini is also just the fourth man to claim three or more victories against Nadal on clay, following in the footsteps of Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio. The Italian’s previous two clay-court victories against Nadal came at the Rio Open presented by Claro and Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in 2015.

In the opening game, Fognini found success returning deep into Nadal’s forehand. The Italian took advantage of short replies from the Spaniard to gain court position, firing winners to earn an early break. But Nadal quickly found his rhythm on his forehand, opening up the court with angles to move Fognini across the baseline and extract errors for a 3-1 lead.

From there, Fognini bounced back in emphatic fashion to take the opening set. The Italian continued his attack on Nadal’s forehand, driving backhands cross-court to break serve for a 5-4 lead. In the next game, Fognini maintained his attacking mentality, charging the net behind his serve to take a one-set lead.

Buoyed by an electric atmosphere in the crowd, Fognini charged towards the finish line in set two. The 31-year-old took time away from Nadal at every opportunity, striking any available short balls to push Nadal out of position and into errors.

Nadal managed to save three consecutive match points at 5-0, 40/0, before breaking for a third time to extend the match. But the possibility of a remarkable comeback was removed by Fognini, who cracked a forehand up the line from the tramline to hand Nadal his fifth loss at the Monte-Carlo Country Club (71-5).

Nadal was bidding to reach his 13th final in Monte-Carlo and match Roger Federer’s record for most final appearances at Masters 1000 level (50). The Manacor native owns a 33-16 record in his 49 championship matches at Masters 1000 level, which includes an 11-1 record at this event.

“It was a tough day and [Fabio] was a difficult opponent,” said Nadal. “I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries, and in terms of the mental side it has not been easy to accept all the things that have been going on… It was this kind of day that everything was wrong.

“I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years. So 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.”

Did You Know?
Since the ATP Masters 1000 series began in 1990, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters championship match has never featured two first-time finalists.

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