The aptly-named 'King of Clay' holds the ATP Tour record for most titles won at a single tournament not just once but three times over, having captured 11 trophies at the Barcelona Open, the French Open and, of course, the Monte-Carlo Masters. Nadal's reign at the tournament was interrupted from but he is now on a three-year stream monte carlo tennis final streak at the Monte-Carlo Country Club and the Spaniard, a finalist at the Australian Open already inwill be the hot favourite to make it an unbelievable 12 titles - and stake his claim as rightful favourite for the French Open - at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Since Nadal has captured so many titles at the first clay-court Masters Series of the year, few other active players know what it's like to lift the trophy - but Novak Djokovic, champion in anddoes.
Nadal holds the record for most titles won at a single event at not one but three tournaments: The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the Barcelona Open and the French Open, all of which he has won 11 times. Claiming a 12th title at the first clay-court Masters Series of the year, where he owned a record coming into the edition, was supposed to be his first step towards a twelfth Roland Garros trophy in June - and it looked absolutely nailed on after Djokovic, one of only three men to have beaten Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters before today, lost in the quarterfinals.
In hindsight, the warning signs were there in Nadal's quarterfinal match against Argentina's Guido Pella, which the Spaniard won in straight sets, but only after minutes and dropping serve five times.
The conditions on Saturday were even more tricky, with swirling wind playing a significant role in the topsy-turvy first semifinal between Medvedev and Lajovic, and the very first game took 12 minutes before Fognini broke Nadal's serve to open.
But Nadal seemed to get on top of things early on, breaking back immediately and holding to 15 before breaking Fognini again in a game in which the Italian came off on the wrong end of a bad judgement by the umpire and was handed a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for his reaction to said judgement.
Trailing and furious with the umpire, Fognini looked ready to self-destruct as we have seen him do many times over the course of his career, and if Nadal had just been able to find enough depth on his groundstrokes, he might have kept the world no.
Instead Fognini was able to break straight back to and the next few games went with serve, with Nadal still seeming to have the slight advantage in momentum as he produced a perfect drop shot winner at , and held to edge ahead after seven games.
But the time champion's forehand was misfiring badly and it was another cluster of errors off that wing which saw him broken to trail , his streak of 25 consecutive sets won at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in danger and then comprehensively snapped as Fognini served out the set - although not without an immense stroke of luck at , when his ball bounced high off the net cord and landed ungettably.
Fognini had taken sets from Nadal in both of their most recent clay-court encounters before today and still lost, but Nadal signally failed to regroup at the beginning of the second set as the Italian grew in stature with every shot, striking a backhand winner to break for as the crowd chanted his name.
Nadal's forehand continued to leak errors, but he was failing to get any real depth on the ball off either wing as Fognini raced towards the unthinkable - not just beating Nadal on clay, but bagelling him, a fate Nadal hasn't suffered since at the hands of Roger Federer.
Nadal managed to avert that by breaking back and holding for , but at the second time of asking, Fognini closed out his unlikely, resounding victory and Nadal was out. I probably played one of the worst matches on clay in 14 years.
So when that happens, you have to lose. And today I deserve to lose because I played against a player that was better than me today.
As Djokovic said after his defeat to Medvedev, the clay-court season for these titanic types is about one thing and one thing only - the French Open.
But it's certainly given everybody something to think about as Nadal moves on to next week's Barcelona Open, and Fognini heads to a surprising final against Lajovic.
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