BEIJING • Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal moved within reach of his first hard-court title in almost two years by extracting a modicum of revenge on new Italian foe Fabio Fognini, with a 7-5, 6-3 win in their China Open semi-final yesterday.
The flamboyant Fognini, who unleashed an angry tirade at Nadal for slow play at the Hamburg Open final earlier this year, became the first man to beat Nadal from two sets down at a Grand Slam when he took him out in the third round of the US Open last month.
It was one of three wins the unseeded Italian had secured over the 14-time Grand Slam champion this year but Nadal ensured there would not be a fourth on a chilly day at the National Tennis Centre in Beijing.
A jittery Nadal, who has slumped to No. 8 in the world following injury and a dip in form, wasted three match points before securing victory and a spot in today's final against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who beat David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3.
Said Nadal, who last won a hard- court title 21 months ago: "My position on the court was more aggressive, and that's why I was able to beat him after a couple of defeats."
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The Spaniard insisted his row with Fognini was in the past, but his lukewarm handshake at the net and apparent exchanges between his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, and the Italian told a different story.
"No rivalry at all. No, no, no," he said. "We had the issue that we had in Hamburg, and that's it. No problems."
Fognini also said the Hamburg row was in the past but he indicated ill-feeling may remain against Nadal's team and in particular Toni.
World No. 6 Kei Nishikori, though, suffered another humiliation at the hands of Benoit Paire in the Japan Open semi-finals, losing 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 in Tokyo yesterday, after being beaten by the Frenchman in the first round of the US Open.
Playing in a pair of badly torn sneakers following a forlorn dash to buy some new ones and with only spare racket in his bag, Paire dished out some crunching shots to win the nail-biter and prove his Flushing Meadows success was no fluke.
He has to confront top seed and close friend Stan Wawrinka in today's final. The Swiss beat Luxembourg's Gilles Muller 6-4, 7-6.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE