BEIJING: Rafael Nadal reached his first hard-court final in more than a year on Saturday, beating Fabio Fognini 7-5, 6-3 in the China Open semifinals.
The third-seeded Nadal’s previous hard-court final was at the Sony Open in Miami in March 2014. The Spaniard last won a hard-court tournament two months before that in Doha, Qatar.
“For me, (to) be in the final is a great event. Very happy with that result,” Nadal said. “The goal for me is try to find a good level at this end of the season.”
Nadal and Fognini each dropped serve twice in the opening set before the Spaniard got the decisive break to capture the set with Fognini serving at 5-6.
Then, in the sixth game of the second set, Fognini sent a backhand long to give Nadal another break and a 4-2 lead, which the Spaniard did not relinquish.
Fognini had beaten Nadal three times this year, including in the third round of the U.S. Open last month. He was trying to join Novak Djokovic as the only other player to beat Nadal more than three times in a single season. Djokovic beat Nadal six times in 2011.
Nadal could face the top-ranked Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Djokovic, who has never lost at the China Open, takes on David Ferrer of Spain in the other semifinal Saturday night.
Nadal leads their head-to-head 23-21, but hasn’t beaten Djokovic since the French Open final last year.
“I know today Novak is not my league, is a different level of me this year,” Nadal said. “Tomorrow is a match to try to enjoy and try to play the way that I want to play, and we’ll see.”
In women’s play, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky defeated Ana Ivanovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the final. With the result, she’s now assured of making the top 10 for the first time in her career.