What Fognini Told Nadal Before SF

Walking onto Court Rainier III at the Monte-Carlo Country Club to play Rafael Nadal is a daunting task. The Spaniard has won 11 titles on the main court at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

But on Saturday, Italian Fabio Fognini felt no fear. In fact, he says he played up his chances to Nadal himself.

“With Rafa, it’s always difficult,” Fognini said. “I was telling him yesterday that I knew that I have the game to play against him. Sometimes I won, a few matches. One crazy one in 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.”

After a stunning one-hour, 36-minute display, Fognini is into his maiden ATP Masters 1000 final. The Italian ended Nadal’s Monte-Carlo streaks of 25 straight sets and 18 consecutive matches won.

Fognini arrived at this event having lost seven of his previous eight tour-level matches, including four in a row on clay. In the first round, Andrey Rublev took a 6-4, 4-1 lead against Fognini and had five chances to make it 5-1. But the Italian battled back, and he has not looked back since.

“If you told me at the beginning of the week, I will see you on Sunday, I would laugh in your face. I was 6-4, 4-1 down and break points for 5-1, and I made an ace on the line,” Fognini said. “But that’s incredible sport, so I was lucky. Now I’m in the final. And of course I’ll go for the title tomorrow.”

Fognini arrived in the Principality without momentum, trying to bounce back from a disappointing first-round straight-sets loss in Marrakech against Czech Jiri Vesely. Just days later, he is the first Italian Monte-Carlo finalist since Corrado Barazzutti (l. to Borg) in 1977.

“Fabio played an unbelievable match. He played so well. Rafa is Rafa… it’s a fantastic result,” former Italian Davis Cup Captain Paolo Bertolucci told ATP Tennis Radio. “We couldn’t imagine that after Marrakech… But the sport is like this. Something very important could change in one day and then you can see your next match much easier and start to play much better and finish on Sunday.”

It’s a fitting location for Fognini’s resurgence, as he lives only a 45-minute drive from the Monte-Carlo Country Club. It’s closer to his residence than the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, a Masters 1000 tournament held in Rome.

“Today playing against Rafa, even if you play in Italy, it’s really tough,” Fognini said, with a smile. “I’m living really close by, and it’s a big opportunity to them to come here and try to watch me play. So I don’t know tomorrow how many they are coming, but that’s not my problem. It’s his problem. I hope that they are coming, a lot of people.”

Fognini’s friends and family have been able to come out to support the 13th seed, including his wife, 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta.

“It was an amazing day. He played really, really well. He was really consistent, really focused on the game. It was not easy to play today, a really windy day and Rafa had some mistakes, a few mistakes in important moments,” Pennetta told ATP Tennis Radio. “It’s not that usual that you see that from Rafa, but it was really difficult to play today. I saw Fabio also played really well yesterday with the wind. He’s a guy who in these conditions, he plays really well.”

The 31-year-old will meet Serbian Dusan Lajovic — who had never made an ATP Tour final or advanced past a Masters 1000 quarter-final — for the trophy. It is a big opportunity for both men, as this is the first Masters 1000 championship match between two first-time finalists at the elite level since the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters.

“I think it’s the best moment for him. He was working all his career to get to a final at the best tournaments. This one is one of the best after the Grand Slams,” Pennetta said. “It’s a really important day for both of them because normally you face Rafa, Djokovic, Roger in the final. It’s a big chance for both of them so it’s going to be a really emotional moment.”

“It’s going to be really tough. He has nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose. We start 50/50,” Fognini said. “Even if in the [ATP] Rankings I’m higher than him, I know that I have to run a lot tomorrow.”

Did You Know?
Fognini is the fourth man to claim three or more victories against Nadal on clay, following in the footsteps of Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio.

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