Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs.  Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Nadal knows well how dangerous Fognini can be, he had the misfortune of losing two consecutive times to him on clay last year and memories of losing in the round of 16 at this tournament probably still stings. If those two losses were not enough of an incentive, his five set loss at last year’s US Open after leading by two sets must have left some painful scars. Nadal is a champion despite his recent struggles and he has always stated that he was going to get through this. Many of us may have doubted that especially when we saw some of his horrendous losses. There was never any doubt about Nadal’s ability to physically compete with the best; however, Nadal needed to win a tournament of significance to prove that mentally he still had what it takes to perform at the highest level and win.
Winning his ninth Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title came at a critical stage in Nadal’s rebuilding process. He played brilliantly against Stan Wawrinka and passed stern tests from Andy Murray and Gael Monfils. Winning those matches proved to him definitively that he still could perform mentally and win against the top guys. The result is that today when he was threatened in the second set by Fognini’s brilliant tennis, Nadal did not buckle. He rose to the challenge. His shots seem to once more have the depth and the bite that for years frustrated many of his opponents. Amazing how the mind can make a person perform when confidence is high. He may not be fully back until he can beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic; however, I like what I am seeing from him. Nadal won 6-2, 7-6(1) and keeps alive his hopes for his ninth Barcelona title.