Rafael Nadal survives early scare, defeats Fabio Fognini in Rogers Cup quarters

MONTREAL — Rafael Nadal remains on course for a fifth Rogers Cup.

The top-seeded Spaniard battled back from a set down to defeat Italy’s Fabio Fognini 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 in quarterfinal action Friday night at a wind-swept IGA Stadium.

Nadal will meet the winner of Friday’s late match — which saw countryman and No. 10 seed Roberto Bautista Agut face No. 16 Gael Monfils of France — in one of Saturday’s semifinals.

Meanwhile, there will be an all-Russian showdown on the other side of the bracket.

Daniil Medvedev breezed to a 6-3, 6-1 upset of Dominic Thiem in Friday’s first quarterfinal before Karen Khachanov followed with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Alexander Zverev at the US$5.7-million ATP Tour Masters 1000 series event.

This year’s women’s tournament, where teenager Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., advanced to the semis, is being played in Toronto.

Nadal, the top seed with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer skipping this year’s event, looked out of sorts early on the way to being broken by Fognini in the third and fifth games of the first set to fall behind.

But the No. 2 player in the world and defending champion from the 2018 event in Toronto found his rhythm in the second set, breaking Fognini, the seventh seed, in the second game when the world’s 11th-ranked player double faulted to go down 2-0.

The pair gave fans an incredible rally in the fifth game that included a between-the-legs shot from Nadal before Fognini deadened the ball at the net to win the point.

But the 33-year-old Nadal fought off a subsequent break and secured one of his own in the next game on the way to winning the set 6-1.

Nadal broke Fognini, 32, to open the third set, and the Italian requested a medical timeout during a changeover down 3-1 to get his right ankle tapped.

But it didn’t matter as Nadal broke Fognini again to lead 4-1 before holding serve from there to advance to the semis in one hour 57 minutes.

Nadal came into Friday 11-4 in his career against Fognini, who snapped a sixth match losing streak against Nadal in the Monte Carol semifinals back in April.

Fognini is the only player to defeat Nadal from two sets down at a Grand Slam, which he accomplished in the third round of the 2015 U.S. Open.

With the win, Nadal made the Rogers Cup semis for the seventh time, and the first in Montreal since 2013 when he beat Canada’s Milos Raonic in the final. He also won the event here in 2005, and in 2008 in Toronto.

Earlier on Friday, the eighth-seeded Medvedev needed just under 57 minutes to finish off Thiem, the No. 2 seed from Austria.

Medvedev won a whopping 96 per cent of his points on first serve and never faced a break point to grab his first victory in three career meetings with Thiem.

“I was expecting a tougher match,” said the 23-year-old Russian, who’s ranked No. 9 in the world. “I was happy that I was able to play so well, to beat him so easily. It saved me a lot of energy.

“It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Thiem, the fourth-ranked player overall, won a tournament in his native Austria last week, but admitted travel and a tough couple of matches to open the Rogers Cup wore him down.

“The battery was empty,” said the 25-year-old. “I was not … 100 per cent.”

The sixth-seeded Khachanov, who downed hometown favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime on Thursday to advance, also made quick work of Zverev and should be equally well-rested for Saturday’s semifinal.

The 23-year-old broke his frustrated German opponent in the very first game and never really looked back in a victory that 75 minutes.

“He didn’t play his best, of course,” Khachanov said. “On the other side, I played a good match tactically.”

Zverev, the third seed and No. 7 player in the world, slammed his racket down onto centre court in frustration in the first set, which elicited a negative reaction from the crowd.

The 22-year-old Rogers Cup champion in 2017 gave the damaged hardware to a young fan in the front row, but the support he enjoyed at the start of the match began to wane.

Khachanov, ranked No. 8, blasted a ball out of the venue during Thursday’s win over Auger-Aliassime in frustration at crowd noise during play, leading to loud boos. Friday’s patrons politely applauded his early breakthrough, but the cheers grew louder after Zverev’s outburst.

“It was obvious that when you play against local guy, Canadian, the crowd would be mostly on his side,” Khachanov said. “But today was 50/50, it was really nice.”

Zverev tried to rally after a brief rain delay down a break in the second set, but was unable to muster a response.

In June, Khachanov became the first Russian to be ranked in the top-10 since Mikhail Youzhny in February 2011, and Medvedev joined him last month.

Born just over three months apart, the Moscow natives squared off in the semifinals of their hometown tournament in the players’ only previous ATP Tour meeting last October, which Khachanov won 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3.

He went on to win the event, his third of four career titles.

“Never easy to play against a friend from the same country,” Khachanov said of Saturday’s rematch. “We know each other pretty well.”

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