US Open Third Round Fabio Fognini Defeats Rafael Nadal 5 Formidable Things

Fognini

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Fabio Fognini’s comeback win over Rafael Nadal in the US Open third round was formidable for many reasons. The Tennis Review gives you five of them.

  1. Rafael Nadal had never lost from two sets to love up in a slam before.

Before Nadal’s 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 4-6 loss to Fognini, the Spaniard had won all 151 of the Grand Slam matches which he had led two sets to love.

Nadal’s athleticism and baseline strength have helped him compile a career record of 14 slams and a 198-28 slam win-loss record. Consequently, beating Nadal in a best of five at a slam has been considered one of tennis’ most difficult achievements, even on his weakest surfaces.

Once Nadal is in control of a match, he does not let go, and even if he is taken to a fifth, few elite players in the game’s history have been better at digging out a win (Nadal’s five set 2008 Wimbledon final win over Roger Federer being the perfect illustration of that aspect of his game).

Up until Nadal’s five set defeat to Fognini in New York, he had only played one five set match at the US Open against Ivo Heuberger in 2004, a match he won. Other than that match, he has either won convincingly or been beaten in three or four playing a big hitter, a big server, an all courter or a counter puncher, all bad match ups for Nadal on a fast court.

Fognini, though, as a fellow baseliner, is not a bad match up for Nadal on hard courts. In fact, Fognini was 0-6 on hard courts in 2015 before the US Open and until this year he was 0-4 versus Nadal and was 0-2 on hard courts, suffering defeats in 2013 in Beijing and a 2-6, 2-6 defeats in Miami in 2014.

  1. The match featured 17 breaks of serve

Both players had fairly high first serve percentages – 62 for Fognini, 67 for Nadal- but this match was decided on the return game with Nadal getting 79% of Fognini’s first serve into play and Fognini getting in 70% of Nadal’s first serve.

Nadal won 8/19 break points and Fognini converted 9/16. This is what we would expect of two of the game’s best returners- Nadal is second on the ATP’s return games won stat (33%) and Fognini is ranked 11 (27).

There were seven breaks of serve alone in the ten game fifth set

Under such pressure on the return, this match was won from the baseline and Fognini’s formidable winners count made the difference.

  1. Fabio Fognini hit 70 winners and 39 winners at the net

Fognini’s shot-making has been his defining feature throughout his career. It has also been his Achilles heel – too often he has lost focus in matches as he has gone for risky shots rather than playing the percentages and waiting for the right moment to show off his range of shots.

Though there were elements of such behaviour in Fognini’s defeat of Nadal at this year’s US Open, the Italian managed to rein himself in and wait for the right moments to unleash his formidable shot-making skills, hitting a total of 70 winners to 57 errors compared to Nadal’s 30-18 ratio.

Fognini did not just stay at the baseline though. While the night time conditions and heavy balls were perfect for his baseline skills, the US Open court is faster than most on the tour, and Nadal is prone to upsets in fast conditions. The 32nd seed made the most of it – Fognini came to the net 54 times and won 39 of the points. Nadal, who as a two time US Open and Wimbledon champion is no stranger to the net, ventured up there 22 times and won 19 of those points.

  1. Fognini has never been to the US Open fourth round

In Fognini’s previous seven visits to Flushing Meadows, he had compiled a 4-7 record and made the third round once (2012).

Fognini’s Nadal win also puts him into the fourth round for only the second time in his entire career. His previous slam best showing was a quarter-final finish at the 2011 French Open.

Winning his last three matches at this year’s US Open puts Fognini in the black when it comes to his Slam win-loss record. Before this event, he was 28-29. Now he will walk away with a minimum 31-30 and +1 differential.

  1. 2015 is the first year since 2004 Nadal has not won a slam.

Since Nadal won his first slam in 2005 at Roland Garros, he has won 14 slams in total, and a minimum of one slam a year.

That phenomenal run, and another part of Nadal’s legacy, has come to an end, and at the hands of one of tennis’ great underachievers.

Fognini now has a chance to amend his less than flattering grand slam match win-loss record when he comes up against Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round of this year’s US Open.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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