Looking for a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title, Nadal was heading for a comfortable win when he stretched for a wide backhand. His racquet bounced off the pitch onto the bridge of his nose, immediately drawing blood and causing the Spaniard to go back to his chair and lie down.
“[It] was just a strong blow. At first I thought so [broke] the nose because it was a shock at first. Was very painful. I’ve lost feeling in my head a bit. It’s about being a little bit out of the world,” Nadal said. “I don’t know, it seems it isn’t [broken]. I am not sure yet. I do not know. I think it’s getting bigger and bigger.
“It’s just a shock, somehow I deserved to play so badly for a while. No, that’s it [a joke]. [These are] things that happen sometimes.”
After having a physio put tape on his nose, Nadal returned to the pitch a few minutes later to wrap up the 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 win inside Arthur Ashe Stadion.
It was a dramatic moment in a dramatic match between the longtime rivals. Fognini led by a set and went ahead three times with a break in set number two before Nadal pushed his game forward. The Spaniard will face off against the former world No. 7 Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
“I train much, much better than what I play. That’s a positive thing. Then I have to implement that in the games. It’s something that’s not easy. But I’m making a step forward,” said Nadal. “I think at the end of the game I played better today than in the first round without a doubt. That’s an improvement. Two games already. Two wins. That helps. Now another chance against Richard.”
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Nadal qualifies for the Nitto ATP Finals for the 17th time
With his win, Nadal qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the 17th time. The left-hander is the first singles player to earn his place at the Pala Alpitour on November 13-20. Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupsky qualified in doubles on Wednesday.
The 22-time Major winner reduced his errors significantly to stay in the second set despite falling behind. That paid off as Fognini’s level dropped and completely changed the dynamic of the game.
“I stayed there. I was positive. Even though the disaster was huge, I wasn’t too frustrated,” Nadal said. “I just accepted the situation and stayed modest enough [I didn’t] consider me too good not to accept many mistakes.”
Nadal won 17 of the last 21 points of the set to level the clash and from there he rose through the final two sets. The only hiccup came when the freak accident happened with the score 3-0 in the fourth set. However, that didn’t stop Nadal from rushing to the finish after nine breaks of serve.
“I was [a] a little shocked. I knew that when I got back on the pitch [was] I’ll be in trouble for a while,” Nadal said. “But I had to save that [service game]…I had some good serves and a good backhand pass. I won the game.
“Tennis has a lot to do with moments. The most important thing in this game is if you’re playing badly or if the opponent is playing too well, don’t go too far in goal.”
Nadal was well aware of the threat Fognini posed after squandering a two-set advantage against the Italian in the third round US Open in 2015. But despite the slow start, he managed to survive his opponent’s serve. The former Top 10 star’s 60 unforced errors were his undoing.