Rafael Nadal of Majorca gestures while in action against Fabio Fognini of Italy during their quater-final match at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Montreal, Canada. | VALERIE BLUM


Rafael Nadal appeared to break Fabio Fognini’s serve in the Italian’s first service game of the match when a backhand from the seventh seed was called long. A challenge showed it was a line-clipper, and Fognini seized that momentum, cruising through the first set.

But four-time ATP Masters 1000 Canada champion Nadal cut down his mistakes and battled hard for a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory, advancing to the semi-finals of the Coupe Rogers in Montreal.

"It was an up-and-down match, but a positive match for me," Nadal said. "I have been playing better and better."

The top seed entered this match with a 11-4 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Fognini. However, the Italian took confidence from defeating Nadal in this year’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters semi-finals, and he also came from two sets down to oust the Spaniard in the third round of the 2015 US Open.

But Fognini was unable to maintain his level to match Nadal’s significant improvement after the first set, and the Italian also received treatment on his foot during the 2-1 changeover in the decider. The Majorcan moves into the last four in Montreal for the first time since lifting the trophy here in 2013. He also triumphed in this city in 2005 as a 19-year-old.

Nadal made an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors in the early going, giving Fognini the confidence to play aggressively. The Italian, who cracked the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time in June (he is currently No. 11), used that moment as a boomerang, breaking the legendary lefty for 2-1, and not relinquishing that advantage in the opener.

Fognini shuffled into the court and cracked a backhand winner down the line to close out the first set after 40 minutes, oozing with confidence in a city where he had never made the quarter-finals.

"I lost [the first set] 6-2 with the feeling I was not playing bad, no negative feelings on the ball, just things [were] going too fast," Nadal said. "Honestly, the beginning of the match [was] difficult because I [was] playing probably a little bit better than him, but then the score was against me. I felt that I had a big chance to be 3-Love for me. then it was 3-1 for him."

The Italian could not get off to as quick of a start in the second set, though, and that proved pivotal. The 32-year-old double faulted into the net to give Nadal his first break of the match and a 2-0 lead in the set. Nadal settled his game down and slowly began pushing Fognini behind the baseline, winning 12 of the final 15 games in the match.

The air came out of Fognini’s resistance at 1-3 in the final set, when Fognini fired a forehand long to give Nadal double-break advantage. And after one hour and 57 minutes, the World No. 2 launched an unreturned serve to triumph, setting a meeting in the last four against countryman Roberto Bautista Agut, the No. 10 seed, or No. 16 seed Gael Monfils. That match was suspended due to rain after two points and will resume Saturday at 1:00 pm local time.

"Everybody knows that he's one of the big talents on Tour. It's true that during his career he had some up and downs. When he's playing well, these kind of players that can produce amazing shots from everywhere. He's a big opponent for everyone," Nadal said of Fognini. "He's having a great season already winning a Masters 1000 and playing some great matches all around. Just well done for him. I wish him all the very best."

Did You Know?
Last year in Toronto, Nadal also lost the first set of his quarter-final 2-6 before rallying for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory against Marin Cilic. He went on to defeat Karen Khachanov in the semi-finals and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the championship match.