New York: Rafael Nadal isn’t one to hold a grudge. But if the Spaniard, 36, was seeking payback for his painful five-set loss to Italy’s Fabio Fognini in the third round of the 2015 US Open, he got it on Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium — though it didn’t come without a fight, one that left him bloodied.
The four-time champion overcame both a slow start and the upset-minded Fognini to prevail, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, back into the third round for the 14th time in 16 appearances in Flushing Meadows.
Despite the infamous 2015 loss, in which he squandered a two-sets-to-love advantage, Nadal now leads the overall head-to-head, 14-4.
The 60th-ranked Fognini, three years removed from a career-high of world No. 9, raced through the 34-minute opening set with breaks in the third and seventh games.
Nadal, clearly out of sorts, at times even palming his face in disbelief, dropped five of his first seven service games and fell behind 2-4 in the second set. But as he’s shown so many times before, even when he can’t summon his best level, the Mallorcan kept fighting, soon bringing the set back on serve. Two games later, the crowd, which had been sitting in stunned silence much of the way, finally came alive as the record 22-time major titlist leveled the match at one set apiece.
Fognini, 35, dug himself an insurmountable 2-4 hole in the third set, Nadal swatting a running forehand winner to secure the break.
The match took a surreal turn in set four when, ahead 3-0 and the finish line in sight, Nadal accidentally bloodied his nose with his own racquet on a follow-through and was forced to take a medical timeout. With tape on his face, he returned to close out the proceedings in two hours and 42 minutes.
With the win, Nadal became the first player to qualify for the year-end ATP Finals in Turin.
With two Grand Slam titles this season and no points to defend in New York, he is in prime position to begin his ninth stint and 210th week atop the rankings.