Nadal alert to Fognini dangers ahead of fourth hurdle

 - Alex Sharp

Italian Fognini, with four victories to his name over the world No.2, is Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open fourth round opponent

Rafael Nadal after winning his match against Cameron Norrie at the Australian Open 2021©Tennis Australia/Scott Barbour

218 times opponents have returned to court two sets down to Rafael Nadal in Grand Slam action, they have all walked off defeated.

There is only one man who has pulled off the almost impossible against the 20-time Grand Slam champion, the flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini.

Rewind to the US Open 2015 and Fognini scorched 70 winners past Nadal in a 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 6-4 classic comeback. It was a painful and extremely rare defeat for Nadal.

"He will be hungry"

A lot has happened since then, including the Spaniard lifting a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros 2020.

“We’ve played a lot of times and he’s beaten me a couple of times. He’s come here after an injury, so he will be hungry to do well,” stated the Spaniard, holding a 12-4 record against the mercurial Italian.

“That’s a very impressive victory against de Minaur, in straight sets. So, he will come to our match with plenty of confidence and of course you never expect an easy match at this stage. I need to be ready.

He's one of the most talented players on tour with a lot of amazing things. When he's playing well, he's one of the most dangerous opponents on tour without a doubt.”

Fabio Fognini at the Australian Open 2021©Tennis Australia/Natasha Morello

Looking back or looking forward?

From Fognini’s perspective, the 16th seed is pleasantly surprised by his impressive return to action following ankle surgery in the off-season. 

“The first step, I have to say that my tennis is ready, yes. The second thing, because Rafa, everybody know him that it's more physically than mentally than most of the other thing. I think he's more fresh than me, but it's a big challenge for me to see the next step how I am and how I'm feeling, but we should remember that he won everything,” stated the world No.17.

Fognini, having matched his best Australian Open progress to date, isn’t going to be recalling his 2015 triumph from New York, instead looking forward.

“Nothing. I mean, the past is the past. The future is gonna be the future. So I'm really looking forward, trying to be ready again for a great match in front of me. I mean, have a really good friend. I have one of the best players in the world, this is a good step forward.”

Rafael Nadal during a press conference in Melbourne 2021©Tennis Australia/Natasha Morello

No significant pain for Rafa

Like his opponent on Monday, Nadal has had some physical issues, with back muscle spasms causing pain since arriving Down Under.

In good news for Nadal fans, the world No.2’s high-quality 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 win over world No.69 Cameron Norrie was his first contest in Melbourne without experiencing significant pain.

“Have been an important victory for me. The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day. So that's the most important thing,” revealed the Spaniard, satisfied with his Australian Open progress with three dominant wins on the board.

“I did things well, things that I need to improve. Something normal. Happy of course. Second week, straight sets. Can't complain.”

Can Fognini conjure up another memorable moment against Nadal? Or will the quest for major No.21 continue?