Rafael Nadal (Player Profile) is just one win away from reclaiming top spot in ATP Rankings after edging out unseeded Fabio Fognini (Player Profile) in a three-set drama at China Open in Beijing. The players have already met twice this season with Rafa triumphing in straight sets on both occasions, yet the second seed Spaniard had to dig deep today to avoid a quarter-final defeat. Stunningly, the opening set was a one-way traffic with the Italian moving two breaks clear by 5-1 and missing a couple of opportunities to serve out the set in the follow-up game. However, he stole Nadal’s serve for the third time in the set to take a surprise lead.
World no. 19 Fognini’s dominance continued in the second set as he again seized an early break and squandered four more break points later on, including the one which would allow him escaping to 5-1. He paid the price for not taking his chances straight away as the favorite converted the sixth break point in the longest game of the clash to make it 4-3 and completed a five straight games run to clinch a nerve-shredding second set and level the terms. Fognini opened the deciding set with an easy hold, but he was a mere spectator from then on as Rafa stormed past him to claim a much desired semi-final ticket with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
“[After I broke] I played better,” Nadal commented on the outcome of the match. “It’s true that his level of tennis for a long time in the match was very, very high. When you are playing against an opponent playing well, the thing that you have to do is try to push him to the limit and try to make him play very well for a very, very long time. That’s something that I was not doing for the first set and a half.”
He is now facing another difficult test against fourth seed Tomas Berdych (Player Profile) who is yet to drop a set at the tournament. The first set of his meeting with John Isner (Player Profile), seed number eight, could have gone either way as the American failed to serve the opener out at 5-4 before giving away a couple of consecutive service games at the end of the set. He replied with a break to love in the initial game of the set number two, but eventually allowed Berdych to go on a five straight games run and wrap up the proceedings by converting the first match point and winning 7-5, 6-2. World no. 5 Czech is trailing 3-15 behind Nadal in their head-to-head statistics and has been unable to beat him since 2006. He failed to steal a set off the Spaniard in any of their three encounters in 2013.