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How Fabio Fognini got the best of Rafael Nadal

Fabio Fognini hits the backhand return to Rafael

Fabio Fognini hits the backhand return to Rafael Nadal in their men's third-round singles match on Day 5 of the U.S. Open on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Fabio Fognini understood the situation perfectly as his third-round match against 14-time major-tournament champion Rafael Nadal journeyed from Friday night into Saturday morning.

Fognini is the 28-year-old Italian veteran who, in 2012, was the last Grand Slam tournament victim of retiring former Open champ Andy Roddick. That, by the way, was the only other time in his eight Flushing Meadows appearances that Fognini played in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

A solid pro, Fognini nevertheless had advanced as far as the fourth round only twice before in 30 previous Grand Slam events. And, around midnight Friday, losing decisively, he simply was telling himself, "OK, let's try. Let's keep working. Do your tennis."

"But two sets to zero against Rafa," he admitted, "maybe you have to go to Lourdes."

By the time they finished playing, at 1:26 in the morning and after almost four hours on court, Fognini somehow had pulled a rabbit out of his hat with a 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Shocking?

"He played great," Nadal said. "It was not a match that I lost, even if I had opportunities. It's a match that he wins. So, accept. Not happy that he played better than me, but that's what happened."

Fognini hit a startling 70 winners (compared to 30 for Nadal) and committed 57 unforced errors (Nadal had 18) in continuing to execute the only strategy that made sense to him.

"With Rafa, you have to risk," he said. "You have to attack him when you have the chance." Already this year, Fognini twice had beaten Nadal, whose 2015 season (42-14 match record, with three tour titles) hardly measures up to his normal standard.

But, "confidence or not confidence," Fognini said, "you know that if you want to play against him, you have to risk. That's the only thing. I beat him three times but, you know, it's just statistic."

A more dramatic statistic is Nadal going 0-for-4 in 2015 Slams for the first time since 2004, when he was 17 going on 18. "The only thing that means," Nadal said, "is I played worse than the last 10 years. By the way, for me was amazing to win 10 years in a row a Grand Slam. I think nobody did.

"So, accept that was not my year and keep fighting till the end of the season with the feeling that I have improved from the beginning of the season."

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