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Nadal suffers shock loss to Fognini at Monte-Carlo Masters: 'I played a very bad game against a good player'

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 20 Apr 2019
  • Rafael Nadal was defeated 4-6, 2-6 by Fabio Fognini at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters
  • 'I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years'
Rafael Nadal lost 4-6, 2-6 to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

Rafael Nadal suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Fabio Fognini at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

There will be no twelfth Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title for Rafael Nadal in 2019 after he lost in the semifinals to Fabio Fognini in straight sets.

The 4-6, 2-6 defeat for Nadal ended an 18-match winning streak at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters which stretches back to 2015, when he lost in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic. 2015 was also the last time that Nadal lost to Fognini, who beat him on three separate occasions over the course of the season, but hadn't succeeded in winning a match against the Spaniard since - until today.

From 1-3 down in the first set, Fognini won 11 of the next 14 games to win 6-4, 6-2.

‘I played a very bad game against a good player, so in that situation, you have to lose. That’s what I did this afternoon,’ Nadal said.

Fognini will face Dusan Lajovic in the final after the Serbian pulled off a comeback win of his own in even more dramatic fashion: After trailing 1-5, he won ten straight games and 11 of the next 12 to beat Daniil Medvedev, who in turn had shocked Djokovic in the previous round, 7-5, 6-1.

But with all due to respect to Fognini, who showcased some of the phenomenal talent that has flared and flickered over the course of his career, the story on Saturday was Nadal losing, not the Italian winning.

Fabio Fognini (PA Sport)
The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters has been one of the heartlands of Nadal's clay-court dominance over the past decade and a half. Nadal holds the record for most titles won at a single event at not one but three tournaments: The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the Barcelona Open and the French Open, all of which he has won 11 times. Claiming a 12th title at the first clay-court Masters 1000 Series of the year, where he owned a 68-4 record coming into the 2019 edition, was supposed to be his first step towards a twelfth Roland Garros trophy in June - and it looked absolutely nailed on after Djokovic, one of only three men to have beaten Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters before today, lost in the quarterfinals.

In hindsight, the warning signs were there in Nadal's quarterfinal match against Argentina's Guido Pella, which the Spaniard won in straight sets, but only after 142 minutes and dropping serve five times. The conditions on Saturday were even more tricky, with swirling wind playing a significant role in the topsy-turvy first semifinal between Medvedev and Lajovic, and the very first game took 12 minutes before Fognini broke Nadal's serve to open. But Nadal seemed to get on top of things early on, breaking back immediately and holding to 15 before breaking Fognini again in a game in which the Italian came off on the wrong end of a bad judgement by the umpire and was handed a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for his reaction to said judgement.

Trailing 1-3 and furious with the umpire, Fognini looked ready to self-destruct as we have seen him do many times over the course of his career, and if Nadal had just been able to find enough depth on his groundstrokes, he might have kept the world no. 18 reeling. Instead Fognini was able to break straight back to 2-3 and the next few games went with serve, with Nadal still seeming to have the slight advantage in momentum as he produced a perfect drop shot winner at 3-3, 30-30 and held to edge ahead after seven games.

But the 11-time champion's forehand was misfiring badly and it was another cluster of errors off that wing which saw him broken to trail 3-5, his streak of 25 consecutive sets won at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in danger and then comprehensively snapped as Fognini served out the set - although not without an immense stroke of luck at 5-4, 30-30 when his ball bounced high off the net cord and landed ungettably.

Fognini had taken sets from Nadal in both of their most recent clay-court encounters before today and still lost, but Nadal signally failed to regroup at the beginning of the second set as the Italian grew in stature with every shot, striking a backhand winner to break for 1-0 as the crowd chanted his name. Nadal's forehand continued to leak errors, but he was failing to get any real depth on the ball off either wing as Fognini raced towards the unthinkable - not just beating Nadal on clay, but bagelling him, a fate Nadal hasn't suffered since 2007 at the hands of Roger Federer.

Nadal managed to avert that by breaking back and holding for 2-5, but at the second time of asking, Fognini closed out his unlikely, resounding victory and Nadal was out.

'Was a tough day and was a difficult opponent,' Nadal said afterwards

'I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries, and in terms of the mental side have been not easy to accept all the things that have been going on during the last times. 

'So just 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 deserve to lose because I played against a player that was better than me today.'

In terms of games, it was the worst defeat Nadal has suffered on clay since he got five games against Andy Murray at the Madrid Masters in 2015.

As Djokovic said after his defeat to Medvedev, the clay-court season for these titanic types is about one thing and one thing only - the French Open. And failing to secure a twelfth Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters does not mean that Nadal won't be the one to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires in Paris in June. But it's certainly given everybody something to think about as Nadal moves on to next week's Barcelona Open, and Fognini heads to a surprising final against Lajovic.

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Nadal suffers shock loss to Fognini at Monte-Carlo Masters: 'I played a very bad game against a good player'

Rafael Nadal will not claim a twelfth Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title in 2019 after suffering a 4-6, 2-6 defeat to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals, ending an 18-match winning streak for the Spaniard at the first clay-court Masters 1000 Series of the season

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