MONTE CARLO • Like Rafa Nadal, clay is the preferred surface of Fabio Fognini.
But, while the world No. 2 has carved out a formidable reputation on the red dirt - with a record 57 ATP titles, including 11 French Open - his 18th-ranked opponent has a relatively modest seven titles in comparison.
So the 31-year-old Fognini's 6-4, 6-2 upset semi-final victory came as a surprise at the Monte Carlo Masters, where the king of clay had been expected to go on to clinch a record-extending 12th title.
The shock loss ended a series of 25 consecutive sets won on his favourite clay, while Fognini set up his first career Masters 1000 final against Dusan Lajovic.
Unlike Nadal, the Serb mastered the wind to beat Russian Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1 in the earlier semi-final.
At world No. 48, Lajovic is the lowest-ranked player to reach the final since Morocco's Hicham Arazi in 2001.
In blustery conditions at the Monte Carlo Country Club, the defending Roland Garros champion was overwhelmed by Fognini, who entered with all guns blazing.
The Italian's unpredictability, added to that of the weather, were eventually too much for the Spaniard, who bowed out on the fourth match point.
It was just Fognini's fourth career win against Nadal in 15 encounters, and his third on clay - joining Argentinian Gaston Gaudio, Austria's Dominic Thiem (both three) and the top-ranked Novak Djokovic (seven) as the only men to have beaten him three or more times on a surface where he holds court.
In his post-match interview, Fognini also said that the wind had affected his game, but he was able to stay calm despite the match being "really difficult and tough".
He added: "But it doesn't matter because I'm in the final and I'd like to enjoy this match."
Nadal admitted he lost to a better player and that he "probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years".
The 17-time Grand Slam winner said: "I played a very bad game against a good player, so in that situation, you have to lose.
"A tough day and a difficult opponent. I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries and, in terms of the mental side. It has not been easy to accept all the things that have been going on.
"This was the kind of day that everything was wrong. Today, I deserve to lose because I played against a player that was better than me today."
MONTE CARLO MASTERS
Final: StarHub Ch201, 8.30pm