MONTE CARLO, April 20, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The roar of Fabio Fognini as he put the finishing touches on his 6-4, 6-2 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semifinal upset victory over Rafael Nadal could be heard throughout the expansive Monte-Carlo Country Club on Saturday afternoon.
The 18th-ranked Fognini attacked and attacked some more – hitting 21 winners and causing the 11-time Monte-Carlo champion Nadal to commit an uncharacteristic 25 unforced errors during their one hour and 36 minute match. By winning, Fognini advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 final and kept the World No. 2 Nadal from achieving a 12th Monte-Carlo Masters title.
“I was telling him yesterday that I (knew I had) the game to play against him,” said Fognini, during his post-match press conference, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Sometimes I won a few matches. (I won) one crazy one at the U.S. 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.”
Medvedev falls to Lajovic
Earlier Saturday, No. 10 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, just a day removed from the biggest win of his career over two-time Monte-Carlo champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, was unable to continue his mastery on the red clay. Instead, it was another Serbian, Dusan Lajovic, who ended Medvedev’s dream run to the final and continued his own dream week with a 7-5, 6-1 victory, reeling off a string of 10 straight games after trailing 1-5 in the first set. Lajovic won with a deep backhand slice that Medvedev returned beyond the baseline.
Like the No. 13 seed Fognini, the 48th-ranked Lajovic will also be playing in his first ATP Masters 1000 final on Sunday (not before 2:30 p.m. local time) – and he’s lifted himself into the Top 25 with his five victories in the Principality this week.
“It was an incredible match today,” said Lajovic, who has yet to drop a set in five matches this week. “I had the worst nightmare, falling down 5-1. But I won 10 games in a row, so I was able to find my rhythm and my game. In windy conditions like today, it was impossible to play real tennis and in the end I was able to hit my forehands better than him. I’m still unaware of my achievement in Monte-Carlo.”
Lajovic continued: “Today was the toughest match, for sure, so far from many aspects: mentally, physically, and I played a player who is playing very tough, tricky tennis. The conditions today with the wind were incredibly hard, so we were struggling a lot, both. But right now I’m really enjoying the moment.”
Fognini on fire
Fognini is enjoying the moment, too. After trailing 3-1 in the opening set against Nadal, the Italian went to work and won 11 of the last 14 games that stunned 33-time Masters 1000 champion from Spain. Fognini won on his fourth match-point opportunity, delighting the packed Court Rainier III, which included Fognini’s wife, Flavia Pennetta and former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in his box.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 20. April 2019
Some of the statistical numbers revealed a telling story about Saturday’s match. Fognini won 63 percent (15 of 24) of his first-serve points to just 44 percent (18 of 41) for Nadal. He also won 54 percent (14 of 26) of his second-serve point to only 39 percent (7 of 18) for the Spaniard. Nadal hit just 10 winners and Fognini limited his unforced errors to a respectable 22. Nadal mishit on many of his forehand returns and never seemed to get on track.
How improbable was Fognini’s victory? Plenty, when one considers that it was just Fognini’s fourth win over Nadal in 15 head-to-head matches against the 80-time ATP tour-level titlist. Also, Fognini put an end to a couple of remarkable streaks belonging to the King of Clay: Nadal had won 18 straight matches at Monte-Carlo and had strung together 25 consecutive winning sets there, too.
“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.”
During his meeting with the media afterward, Nadal said, “It was a tough day and (Fabio) was a difficult opponent. 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.”
Historic loss for Nadal
Looking back, Nadal, who made his ATP Masters 1000 debut in Monte-Carlo at age 16, remains the winningest player in tournament history – 11 titles, 12 finals, 14 semifinals, 15 quarterfinals – and his career record on clay 418-37 is staggering. Fognini, 31, is just the second player – after Djokovic – to beat Nadal at Monte-Carlo after the quarterfinal round. En route to winning the 2013 title, Djokovic ended Nadal’s 46-match winning streak and he also beat the Spaniard during his 2015 title run.
At the start of the week, most observers were looking ahead to another classic Djokovic-Nadal final in the first clay ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the year. Instead, Fognini and Lajovic, both who have beaten quality clay-court opponents and taken full advantage of their opportunities, will be playing in their first Monte-Carlo final as well as their first final of this season. This will also be their first head-to-head confrontation.
“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 (Thiem). I saw him playing the first match and he beat (David) 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.”
Doubles final set
The No. 3 seeds, Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, were upset by unseeded Robin Haase and Wesley Koolhof, both of the Netherlands, 7-6 (4), 6-4. On Sunday, Haase and Koolhof will face Nikola Mektic and Franko Skugor, both of Croatia in the doubles final. The No. 7 seeds defeated Maximo Gonzalez from Mexico and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-4, 6-3.
• Fabio Fognini, who came into the tournament 0-4 on clay this season and 1-14 against World No. 1s and 2s, became just the fourth player to beat Nadal at Monte-Carlo. He joined Novak Djokovic (2013, 2015), David Ferrer (2014) and Guillermo Coric (2003). Nadal was attempting to reach his 13th Monte-Carlo final and to match Roger Federer’s record for most final appearances in ATP Masters 1000 level events (50). Also, Fognini became just the fourth player to achieve three or more victories against Nadal on clay, joining Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio.
• Dusan Lajovic, at No. 48 is the lowest-ranked Monte-Carlo finalist since No. 53 Hicham Arazi in 2001. He is also just the second player to reach his first tour-level final at an ATP Masters 1000 event.
• Daniil Medvedev was attempted to reach his first Masters 1000 final after back-to-back Top 10 wins. Medvedev defeated No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday and top seed Novak Djokovic to reach the semifinals, extending his tour-leading win total in 2019 to 21 (21-7).