Just like we all thought, Fabio Fognini will take on Dusan Lajovic in the first clay Masters final of the year in Monte Carlo tomorrow. No, April Fools’ was a few weeks ago, this is for reals. Fognini v Lajovic in arguably the most bracket-busting Masters clay final ever.
So how did we get here?
Well, first Lajovic took advantage of a fatigued Daniil Medvedev who had beaten his countryman Novak Djokovic in three sets a day earlier. The 28-year-old Lajovic, though, was getting pelted early going down 5-1 in the first set before winning 10 straight games and eventually taking it 7-5, 6-1.
“It was an incredible match today,” said Lajovic. “I had the worst nightmare, falling down 5-1. But I won 10 games in a row, so I was able to find my rhythm and my game. In windy conditions like today, it was impossible to play real tennis and in the end I was able to hit my forehands better than him. I’m still unaware of my achievement in Monte-Carlo.”
In his first Masters semi and now final, it’s absolutely the 48th-ranked Lajovic’s best week of his career. And it’s not even close.
“Today was the toughest match, for sure, so far from many aspects: mentally, physically, and I played a player who is playing very tough, tricky tennis,” added Lajovic. “The conditions today with the wind were incredibly hard, so we were struggling a lot, both. But right now I’m really enjoying the moment.”
Medvedev, who will leave the event as the leader in match wins this season with 21, will rue blowing that 5-1 lead with a spot in his first Masters final on the line. He’ll get there soon enough.
“I think he started playing better and better gradually, and when we were at 5-3 and 5-4, he didn’t miss a point,” said Medvedev. “I think that was what happened. If I look back in hindsight, then when I was up 5-1 or 5-2, I could have taken advantage of some chances and finished it up then. Then we never know how the match could have ended. So I have nothing to say, because this is not what happened and I have to congratulate him.”
So if that wasn’t shocking enough, that was just the appetizer. Now for the main course.
Rafael Nadal had won 11 of 14 against Fabio Fognini – Fabio won 3 all in 2015 – an early on he was in control up 3-1 and it looked like we were headed for another Rafa rout. And that’s what happened, except it went the other way.
Fabio pretty much flipped a switch after going down two breaks. Rafa’s balls, when they landed in the court, were short enough where Fabio could dictate off both wings, punishing Nadal down the line with regularity. And Rafa really struggled on serve.
From 3-1 down, it was all Fognini who stunningly went up 6-4, 5-0 before Nadal finally stopped the rot winning a couple games just for posterity. It looked like Fognini was the true King of Clay, not Rafa who admitted afterward that he played one of his worst matches on his best surface.
“The vision was clear, but I played a very bad match against a good player, so in that situation, you have to lose,” Nadal told the assembled media in Monte-Carlo. “That’s what I did this afternoon. It was a tough day and he was a difficult opponent.
“It was this kind of day that everything went wrong. I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years. And today I deserved to lose because I played against a player that was better than me.”
Nadal had won his last 18 in Monte Carlo and his last 15 on the clay. Those streaks are over. His new streak is 0 titles in his last five events now. And this was a bad result.
“I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries, and in terms of the mental side it has not been easy to accept all the things that have been going on,” Nadal said. “The problem is that sometimes we are used to being very, very solid all the time, and even coming back from injuries, winning and winning and winning, and things are not that easy.
“It is more difficult to hold the same level every single day when you don’t have confidence in tournaments in a row or matches in a row. And that’s what I needed. Even if I have been very competitive all the tournaments that I have been playing, all these stops create some instability… That’s why I have been able to win all the things that I won, especially on clay. But it is always more difficult when all these things are going on.”
Rafa finished winning just 44% of first serves, 39% of second and he was -15 in the winners-to-errors ratio. Fognini was -1.
Big picture, the problem for Rafa is he’s injury prone and he’s turning 33 in two months. And as you get older, you do tend to have those “bad days”. Even Roger has them, everyone does as they age.
That said, I do think Rafa will regroup and win in Barcelona, but I could see him losing at either Rome or especially Madrid. The French, of course, is best-of-5 which makes beating Rafa a whole different challenge.
As for Fognini, full credit to the 31-year-old. The Italian was down and out in his opener to Andrey Rublev and against yesterday was a break and a set down to Borna Coric. He came in with just four match wins on the season, but he was cool and confident and didn’t panic when he was in that early hole.
“With Rafa, it’s always difficult,” Fognini said. “I was telling him yesterday that I knew that I have the game to play against him. Sometimes I won, a few matches. One crazy one in the US Open and two times on clay. So I knew that I had nothing to lose, because, of course, especially when you go with him on clay, it’s always really tough.”
With Rafa’s loss though, it suddenly makes this clay season a lot more interesting. And we’ll have yet another new Masters champion tomorrow. Two veterans will for their biggest career title. Amazing.
“I think it’s going to be really tough,” Fognini said of the final. “He has nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose. We start 50/50. Even if the ranking, I’m higher than him, I know that I have to run a lot tomorrow.”
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