No. 30 Fabio Fognini scored his second straight win over Rafael Nadal on clay, beating the eight-time champion 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the third round of the Barcelona Open. Fognini also beat Nadal at the Rio Open in February and with Thursday's win, the Italian becomes just the second man behind Novak Djokovic to beat Nadal twice on clay in a single season. Not bad for a player who had never won a main draw match in five appearances at the Barcelona Open before this week.
Nadal rebounded in the second set to break Fognini immediately in a lengthy six-deuce game that saw Nadal finally convert on his seventh break point of the game. But again, Nadal struggled on his serve and gave the break right back. In all, there were six breaks of serve in the second set, including in the tenth game when Nadal served for the set at 5-4. He quickly fell behind 0-40 and Fognini broke on his third break point of the game.
"I played poorly, I didn't play like I should have," Nadal said in an interview after the match. "I didn't play aggressively, I missed more shots that I normally do. I didn't manage to keep the advantage I had. Having three breaks in the second set and end up at 5-5 is a disaster.
For Nadal it's back to the practice courts as he races against the clock to get his game up to snuff for his title defense at the French Open, which is now four weeks away. Through two European clay tournaments so far, Nadal has yet to make a final, losing to Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo semifinals last week. At this point last year, Nadal found himself in the same place. He did not make the final in Monte Carlo or Barcelona, taking losses to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, but went on to win the French Open. It's too early to panic but there is reason to be concerned about Nadal's game.
"My forehand didn't have enough power, enough speed, and I didn't have enough control," he said. "My forehand has been my biggest virtue. But today my forehand was vulgar, it wasn't a forehand worthy of my ranking and career. I need my forehand to push my opponents back."
Barring any wildcards into a small tournament next week, Nadal's next tournament is the Madrid Open, where he is the defending champion.
Fognini will play Pablo Andujar in the quarterfinals. Earlier in the day, top seed and defending champion Kei Nishikori eased into the quarterfinals with a win over Santiago Giraldo. He will play No. 7 seed Roberto Bautista Agut. No. 3 seed David Ferrer will play Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Check out this shot from Fognini during Thursday's match: