August 2, 2015
Rafael Nadal defeated Fabio Fognini 7-5, 7-5 to win the Hamburg final and claim the 67th title of his career.
Then Nadal suffered an attack of cramp and yelled in pain during his victory speech. ‘Cramp! I don’t know what I’m going to do now!’ said Rafa, smiling awkwardly. He continued to speak on one leg, the other bent back to avoid further agony.
No wonder the 29-year-old’s body was complaining, after what it had been through.
This had been a titanic struggle between two determined men and the result meant revenge for Nadal against the Italian, who had already beaten him twice on clay this year, in Rio and more recently in Barcelona.
No one has ever beaten Rafa three times on clay in the same year. But Fognini came mighty close to overcoming the Spaniard in a tense affair which also saw a bad-tempered exchange between these fierce rivals towards the end.
After two hours and thirty-four minutes, Nadal prevailed and the final meeting of the gladiators at the net was better-natured.
Nadal then sank to his knees in celebration, savouring the points that boost his chances of making the ATP finals in London in November.
Rafa said: ‘Well done Fabio for a great week, it was a great final, up and down, so I hope that people enjoyed it. Coming back to Hamburg after eight years was a big challenge for me and I’m very happy to have the title.’
Fognini said: ‘It’s a great tournament, and this was a big final. I lost to the best player in the world on this surface but I’m still not happy, because I lost! But congratulations Rafa, you deserve it.’
Nadal looked in trouble early on when he was broken after a twelve-minute opening game. As it turned out, neither player held serve in their first two attempts. Nadal eventually needed four set points to clinch the first set, but finally did so in style with a wonderful forehand into the corner.
The second set was no more straightforward. Nadal broke to go 3-1 ahead, then Fognini fought back until it was Rafa who was a break down. Back came Nadal once more, until Fognini was serving to stay in the match. At that point the Italian’s forehand deserted him and Rafa’s victory was complete.
The statistics suggest that Nadal has much work still to do if he is to return to anything like his best. Although he managed to land 80% of his first serves, Rafa won only 56% of those points. More tellingly, the great Nadal, so famous for his crushing power, managed only 18 winners to Fognini’s 39.
But the Italian’s 60 unforced errors were his downfall, and Nadal fans will have been delighted by the punishing precision of some of his drop-shots.
What will matter most to Nadal is not the manner of victory, but the victory itself. He will hope he can keep that winning habit for long enough to command a place in the world’s top eight come the year-end action in the English capital.