ROME • Rafael Nadal bounced back from a slow start yesterday to continue his clay domination, rallying from a set down to reach the Italian Open semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini.
Nadal dropped the opening set in an hour but regrouped effortlessly as he swept past the Italian in the one-sided second and third sets of their quarter-final.
"I'm not used to playing so early," Nadal said of his midday start. "But I'm very happy to be in the semi-finals. This was a very important win for me today."
The world No. 2 needs to lift an eighth career title at the Foro Italico tomorrow to return to the top of the ATP rankings, after losing that position to Roger Federer on Monday.
Nadal won 16 of his 21 service points to get back on track in the second set. Coupled with breaks in the second and sixth games, the Spaniard ensured there would be a deciding set.
Fognini then dropped his second service game to love and failed to hold serve again at 2-4.
After two hours 14 minutes, Nadal advanced to the last four at this event for the first time since 2014.
Fognini had defeated the 16-time major champion three times in his career, including twice on clay. He also became the first player to beat the Mallorcan from two sets down at a Grand Slam tournament at the 2015 US Open.
But Nadal made the necessary adjustments after the first set.
"He played well, it's true I had a couple of mistakes but he played quick, going for shots without missing much," Nadal told Sky Sports.
"He put me under pressure. I should not lose two serves in a row but it happened. The only thing I can do is accept and keep working for the next set.
"I increased a little bit the level with my forehand, it was something I needed to do."
He will next face either fellow former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic or Japan's Kei Nishikori.
In the women's draw, fourth seed Elina Svitolina defeated former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals.
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