Fabio Fognini made the performance of his career Saturday to stun Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-2, 11-time champion, at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, before qualifying for his first ATP Masters 1000 final.
Fognini won 11 of 14 games in 1-3 in the first set to stun the 33-time winner after one hour and 36 minutes. Fognini's fourth win in 15 FedEx ATP Head2Head games against the tournament's 80 titles ends a run of 18 wins and a 25-game winning streak for Nadal in the Principality.
That's only the second time the world number 18 claims victory against the Top 2, adding to its triumph in 2017 against world number one Andy Murray at the BNL Internazionali of Italia.
Fognini entered the tournament after a run of five defeats on clay and looked set to fall to a sixth consecutive loss to the surface in his opening match. But after Andrey Rublev drove the Italian 6-4, 4-1, Fognini regained his best tennis and he did not look back. Fognini beat world number 3 Alexander Zverev, the ninth seeded Borna Coric and Nadal to reach the championship game at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
Fognini will meet Dusan Lajovic, finalist for the first time on the circuit, for the trophy. Lajovic, who has not yet lost a set in the Principality this week (10-0), has recovered from 1-5 in the first set to beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1. . Fognini and Lajovic have never met at the touring level.
Fognini joins Novak Djokovic as the only player to beat Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Country Club after the quarter-finals. Djokovic broke Nadal's 46-win streak in the Principality to win the title in 2013 and also beat the Spaniard in the last four editions in 2015.
This eighth time at the touring level is only the fourth man to beat Nadal at the third edition of the Masters 1000 of the year. The 31-year-old adds his name alongside Novak Djokovic (2013), David Ferrer (2014) and Guillermo Coria (2003) on the exclusive list.
Fognini is also the fourth man to win three or more victories against Nadal on clay, along with Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio. The two previous victories of the Italian on the clay court against Nadal were held at the Rio Open presented by Claro and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in 2015.
In the opening match, Fognini regained success in Nadal's forehand. The Italian took advantage of the Spaniard's short answers to get a position in court, returning the winners to get an earlier break. But Nadal quickly found his pace on his forehand, opening the court with angles to move Fognini down the baseline and extract the errors for a 3-1 lead.
From there, Fognini bounced emphatically to take the first set. The Italian continued his attack on Nadal's forehand, pushing backhands across to allow his team to score 5 – 4. In the following match, Fognini maintained his offensive mentality, charging the net behind his serve to take a lead of a set.
With an electric atmosphere in the crowd, Fognini headed for the finish line of the second set. The 31-year-old took the time necessary for Nadal, hitting all the short balls available to push Nadal out of position and make mistakes.
Nadal managed to record three consecutive match points at 5-0, 40/0, before breaking a third time to extend the match. But Fognini put an end to his return, digging a forehand on the tram line to give Nadal his fifth defeat at the Monte Carlo Country Club (71-5).
Nadal wanted to reach his 13th final in Monte Carlo and equal Roger Federer's record for most of the final appearances at Masters 1000 (50). The Manacor native is 33-16 in 49 Masters 1000 league games, including an 11-1 record at the event.
"It was a difficult day and [Fabio] was a tough opponent, "said Nadal. I come from difficult times in terms of injuries, and as far as the mental side is concerned, it was not easy to accept all the things that were going on … It was daytime that everything was wrong. "
Did you know?
Since the beginning of the ATP Masters 1000 series in 1990, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters championship game has never presented two finalists for the first time.