Walking to Court Rainier III at the Montecarlo Country Club to play Rafael Nadal is a daunting task. The Spaniard has won 11 titles on the main court at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
But on Saturday, the Italian Fabio Fognini felt no fear. In fact, he says he played his chances with Nadal himself.
"With Rafa, it's always difficult," said Fognini. "I was telling him yesterday that he knew I have the game to play against him." Sometimes I won, some games. A crazy one in the US Open and twice on clay. So I knew I had nothing to lose, because, of course, especially when you go with him on clay, it's always very difficult. "
After an impressive one-hour and 36-minute exhibition, Fognini is in his first ATP Masters 1000 final. The Italian finished with Nadal's runs in Monte Carlo of 25 consecutive sets and 18 consecutive wins.
Fognini came to this event and lost seven of his eight previous matches at the tour level, including four straight on clay. In the first round, Andrey Rublev took a 6-4, 4-1 advantage against Fognini and had five chances to make it 5-1. But the Italian defended himself, and he has not looked back since then.
"If you told me at the beginning of the week, I will see you on Sunday, I would laugh in your face. "I was 6-4, 4-1 down and break points by 5-1, and I made an ace on the line," said Fognini. "But that's an incredible sport, so I was lucky, now I'm in the final and, of course, I'm going for the title tomorrow."
Fognini came to the Principality without momentum, trying to recover from a disappointing loss in the first round in straight sets in Marrakech against the Czech Jiri Vesely. A few days later, he is the first Italian finalist from Monte Carlo from Corrado Barazzutti (P. Borg) in 1977.
"Fabio played an incredible game, he played very well, Rafa is Rafa … it's a fantastic result," former Italian Davis Cup captain Paolo Bertolucci told ATP radio. "We could not imagine that after Marrakech … But sport is like that, something very important could change in a day and then you can see your next match much easier and start playing a lot better and finish on Sunday."
Listen to the ATP Tennis Radio interview with Paolo Bertolucci:
It is a suitable place for the resurgence of Fognini, since he lives just 45 minutes by car from the Montecarlo country club. It is closer to his residence than the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, a Masters 1000 tournament held in Rome.
"Today playing against Rafa, even if you play in Italy, is very difficult," said Fognini with a smile. "I'm living very close, and it's a great opportunity for them to come here and try to watch me play." So I do not know how many tomorrow will come, but that's not my problem. It's your problem. I hope they come, a lot of people. "
Friends and relatives of Fognini have been able to come to support the 13th seed, including his wife, the 2015 US Open champion Flavia Pennetta.
"It was an amazing day, he played very, very well, he was very consistent, really focused on the game." Today it was not easy to play, a very windy day and Rafa had some mistakes, some mistakes at important moments, "Pennetta told the ATP tennis radio. "It's not that usual to see that about Rafa, but it was very difficult to play today. I saw that Fabio also played very well yesterday with the wind. He's a guy who plays very well in these conditions. "
Listen to the ATP Tennis Radio interview with Flavia Pennetta:
The 31-year-old will face Serbian Dusan Lajovic, who never reached an ATP Tour final or advanced beyond the Masters 1000 in the quarterfinals, for the trophy. It is a great opportunity for both men, as this is the first Masters 1000 Championship match between two finalists for the first time at the elite level since the Rolex Paris Masters 2017.
"I think it's the best time for him, he worked his entire career to reach the final in the best tournaments, this is one of the best after the Grand Slams," said Pennetta. "It's a very important day for both of you because you usually face Rafa, Djokovic, Roger in the final, it's a great opportunity for both, so it will be a very emotional moment."
"It's going to be very difficult, he has nothing to lose, I have nothing to lose, we started 50/50," said Fognini. "Even if in the [ATP] The clbadifications are higher than him, I know I have to run a lot tomorrow. "
Did you know?
Fognini is the fourth man to win three or more victories against Nadal on clay, following in the footsteps of Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Gaston Gaudio.