Nadal struggles again, loses to Fognini in Rio semis


Rafael Nadal was beaten in the semifinals of the Rio Open on Saturday night, losing 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 on clay to Italian Fabio Fognini, who will meet David Ferrer in the final.

Nadal has played three tournaments this year and has not reached a final. He lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, was beaten in the first round of the Qatar Open, and is now out of Rio, on his preferred clay surface, in a tournament he won last year.

He also won on clay two years ago in Chile on the Latin American swing.

“Everybody knows he (Nadal) is the best on this surface,” Fognini said. “I don’t have words to describe this moment. I am super happy. It’s the best match I have won so far in my career.”

Nadal will play next week in Buenos Aires, hoping to rebound with an eye on the French Open three months away. He has won nine of the past 10 titles at Roland Garros, but this time may be his biggest challenge.

“I feel my tennis is close, closer than a month ago to the level I want to arrive again,” said Nadal, who missed much of last year with illness and injury.

Nadal complained of cramps from the Rio heat, and said he simply has not played enough. He said he’s motivated, and said Rio “was not a negative week.”

However, he hedged if he would be back next year for this tournament. But he said he would be for the Rio Olympics.

Nadal looks much slimmer than a year ago, although he said earlier in the week his weight had stayed the same for six years — between 85-86.5 kg.

“My physical side is about the same as always,” he said. “Everything is the same. There are no changes in my life. There are no changes in my preparation.”

Fognini won the match by scrambling to the net and scooping a ball — that had nipped the cord — back across for the winner.

Nadal won the first set easily but was not able to maintain that level.

“I have to be happy the way I played that first set,” Nadal said. “But I got tired too early today. . . . But these kinds of things can happen.”

Nadal surely was tired. He played until 3:18 a.m. on Saturday before beating No. 6-seeded Pablo Cuevas. He was back on court just 17 hours later. Fognini also played a late match the night before, but not quite as late as Nadal.

Ferrer progressed to Sunday’s final by defeating Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria 7-5, 6-1. Spain’s Ferrer has played Fognini seven times, and won them all.

The final will be in the early evening, but the temperature will still hover around 32 C with stifling humidity.

“At night it’s better, but you still sweat a ton,” Ferrer said. “The humidity and heat is taking away the energy and spark I have normally.”

The women’s final will be between top-seeded Sara Errani and No. 6 Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia.

Schmiedlova defeated second seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, and Errani won over No. 5 Johanna Larsson of Sweden 7-5, 6-3.

All-French final set


Local favorite Gael Monfils maintained his perfect record against fourth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the final of the Open 13 where he will meet fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon.

The seventh-seeded Monfils, who also beat the Spaniard in the second round last week in Rotterdam, put Bautista Agut under pressure with excellent return games, and converted four of his five break points to produce an easy 6-4, 6-2 win on Saturday.

Simon took a slower start against Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine and rallied to a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory after hitting nine aces.

It will be the first all-French final in the coastal city since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Michael Llodra six years ago.

Halep takes Dubai title


Top-seeded Simona Halep scored her second title of the season with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Karolina Pliskova at the Dubai Championsips on Saturday night.

Halep, who won the Shenzhen title last month in China, benefited from a large contingent of Romanian fans, who constantly cheered “Si-mon-a” from the stands.

Pliskova surrendered her serve in the seventh game of the first set at love to give Halep the needed advantage for the set.