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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 31, 2017

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal did not face break point dismissing Fabio Fognini, 6-1, 7-5, to reach his fifth Miami Open final.

Photo credit: Miami Open

Launching upward, Rafael Nadal stung a slider serve crashing into the court-side clock.

In a dynamic serving performance, Nadal displaced Fabio Fognini, 6-1, 7-5, and dinged up time in the process barging into his fifth Miami Open final.

Watch: Miami Open Live Blog

Rafa has set the stage for a blockbuster 37th installment of his rivalry with Roger Federer if the 35-year-old Swiss prevails in tonight’s second semifinal. 

Knowing he will face a lethal server in the title match, Nadal was declarative on serve today.

Throwing darts against a sniper returner, Nadal served 70 percent, bolted six aces, won 12 of 15 second-serve points and did not face a break point raising his record to an ATP-best 19-4 on the season.

“I think I was serving well,” Nadal told ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert afterward. “Most important thing—more important than the serve—second serve was good and then I was able to play aggressive every time with first ball.

“Not easy conditions, a lot of wind. I think I played a good first set and I think I had a lot of opportunities early in the second set that I did not convert. And then second set was close.”

Taming an unruly wind and tricky opponent, Nadal powered into his third final of the season and now stands one victory from capturing a 70th career title.

It won’t come easy.

Continuing his quest for his first Miami title—and first hard-court championship since the 2014 Doha—Nadal will face either rival Federer or explosive 21-year-old Aussie Nick Kyrgios in Sunday’s 1 p.m. final. Kyrgios joined his Davis Cup captain, Lleyton Hewitt, as one of only two men to defeat Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic in his first meeting with all three.

“Nick is a very confident player, unbelievably talented player, with a huge serve,” Nadal said. “He’s very brave, he decided to hit (big) second serve a lot at tough moments—not everyone can do this thing. He’s a very dangerous player getting better and better.”

A Nadal-Federer final would be their third clash of the season following Federer’s epic five-set victory in the Australian Open final and a commanding conquest in the Indian Wells fourth round earlier this month.

The Roger-Rafa rivalry is rooted in Key Biscayne. They faced off for the first time at Crandon Park in 2004 with the teenage Nadal stunning the then world No. 1. Federer gained a measure of revenge fighting back from a two-set deficit to triumph in five sets in the 2005 final. Nadal won their last Miami meeting in the 2011 semifinals.

“It was a while without playing in important matches and then beginning of the season (we played) and if it happen it’s gonna be a third time (this season),” Nadal said. “I think we played a great match in Australian Open final, but then last week he beat me easier than I want. He’s an unbelievable player. It’s a big challenge for me. For me, the most important thing is to be in the final. I’m gonna try my best.”

Bursting out of the box quickly, Nadal outhustled and outhit the first-time Miami semifinalist from the start.

Squinting into the sun, Fognini opened the fourth game with a double fault.

Lethargy blighted the game as shuffling Fognini netted a stretched forehand dropping serve at love. An energized Nadal ripped through the following game crashing an ace out wide confirming the break for 4-1.

By then, Nadal had reeled off 12 of the last 13 points jerking the Italian around the court.

Unleashing heavy topspin that sometimes spiked to shoulder-level heights, Nadal wreaked havoc with the 5-foot-10 Italian’s timing. Fognini is at his best straddling the baseline, taking the ball on the rise and cracking drives into the corners, but there was a little opportunity for that in the opening set.

The fifth-seeded Spaniard effectively dotted different areas of the serve box to set up his first strike. When Nadal lined up his forehand, he unloaded with ambition.

Often reduced to teetering lunges, Fognini let a lead slip in the sixth game. The former Australian Open doubles champion knows his way around the front court, but Fognini was out of step slapping a bounce smash into the bottom of the net as Nadal broke again for 5-1.

Fognini’s 14th unforced error ended a lopsided 25-minute opening set.

After a bathroom break, Fognini returned to court hitting his serve with a bit more conviction. The 29-year-old Italian saved a break point answering with an ace and serve winner holding to open the second set.

Striking with confidence, Nadal raced through seven straight points earning triple break point in the third game. An ace saved the second break point and a Nadal forehand into the tape erased the third. Fognini fought through a six-minute hitting a slick sliding backhand drop volley in one sequence to hold for 2-1.

Sixty-one minutes into the match, Fognini’s mischievous feel caused Nadal to lose his shoe. A disorientating drop shot from Fognini left a tangled Nadal stepping out of his Nike trying to run down the dropper.

Nadal stepped out of his shoe, but never ran out of answers.

Cruising through his own service games, the gyrating spin of Nadal’s shots caused clanking mis-hits from his opponent at times. Curling his third ace down the middle, Nadal held comfortably for 3-all. The fifth-seeded Spaniard won 12 of the first 13 points played on his serve in the second set.

Fognini has been on the road away from wife Flavia Pennetta, who is expecting the couple's first child in May. Though he made a push in the second set, Fognini watched in dismay as the wind dragged his drop shot wide for break point. Fognini followed with his sixth double fault hurling his Babolat in disgust after handing the break and a 6-5 lead to Nadal.

Swatting his seventh ace, Nadal drew a shanked forehand for triple break point.

One final twisting serve capped a 90-minute victory that puts the 14-time Grand Slam champion within one win of his first title since Barcelona last April. 


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