Rafael Nadal was left bloodied but unbeaten after a freak accident late in his four-set win over Fabio Fognini at the US Open Thursday night.
Seeking a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title, Nadal was cruising towards a comfortable win when he stretched for a wide backhand. His racquet rebounded off the court and onto the bridge of his nose, immediately drawing blood and prompting the Spaniard to walk back to his chair and lay down.
“[It] was just a strong hit. At the beginning I thought I [broke] the nose because it was a shock at the beginning. Was very painful. I lost little bit the… feeling of my head. It’s about being a little bit out of the world,” Nadal said. “I don’t know, seems like it’s not [broken]. I am not sure yet. I don’t know. I think it’s getting bigger and bigger.
“That’s just a shock some way I deserved to play that bad for a while. No, it’s [a joke]. [These are] things that happen sometimes.”
After having a physio apply tape to his nose, Nadal returned to the court a few minutes later to close out the 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 victory inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was a dramatic moment in a dramatic match between the longtime rivals. Fognini led by a set and moved ahead by a break on three occasions in the second set before Nadal found his game to surge ahead. The Spaniard will play former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
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“I am practising much, much better than what I am playing. That’s a positive thing. Then I need to make that happen in the matches. It’s something that is not easy. But I’m making a step forward,” Nadal said. “I think at the end of the match today I played better than in the first round without a doubt, too. It’s an improvement. Two matches already. Two victories. That helps. Now another opportunity against Richard.”
With his victory, Nadal qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the 17th time. The lefty is the first singles player to earn his spot at the Pala Alpitour from 13-20 November. Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski qualified in doubles on Wednesday.
The 22-time major winner significantly reduced his mistakes to remain in the second set despite the deficit he faced. That paid dividends when Fognini’s level dipped, completely changing the momentum of the match.
“I stayed there. I was positive. Even if the disaster was huge, I was not too frustrated,” Nadal said. “Just accepted the situation, stayed humble enough that [I didn’t] consider myself too good to not accept a lot of mistakes.”
Nadal won 17 of the set’s final 21 points to level the clash and from there he surged through the final two sets. The only hiccup came when the freak accident occurred at 3-0 in the fourth set. However, that did not prevent Nadal from powering to the finish line behind nine service breaks.
“I was [a] little bit in shock. I knew that when I came back on court I [was] going to be in trouble for a while,” Nadal said. “But I needed to save that [service game]… I had a couple of good serves and a good passing shot with the backhand. I won the game.
“Tennis is a lot about moments. The most important thing in this game is when you are playing bad or when the opponent is playing too good, don’t be too far on the score.”
Nadal was well aware of the threat Fognini posed, having let slip a two-set advantage against the Italian in the third round of the US Open in 2015. But despite the slow start, he managed to weather his opponent’s serve. The former Top 10 star’s 60 unforced errors proved his undoing.