It is becoming an unfortunate and familiar theme – Rafael Nadal gets knocked out early in a Grand Slam. The latest man to send the 14-time Grand Slam champion on an early flight back to Majorca was Fabio Fognini, with the Italian showing some tremendous fight and grit – something you normally associate with Nadal – to come back from two sets down and book a place in the fourth round of the 2015 US Open.
Nadal was in complete control in this third round match at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, leading two sets to love, with a break in the third set, but just like that, those doubts, which have plagued him all year long, started creeping in and Fognini did not need a second invitation to take advantage and seal a 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory -- the first time Nadal has ever lost a match after winning the first two sets in his career.
Looking back at this match, Nadal will wonder how he let it slip, while Fognini, seeded 32, will know this could very well be the fillip he needs to make a deep run in this US Open.
Looking down and out, Fognini just found that mojo again, and once Nadal's forehands and that topspin started fading into oblivion, you started to fear the worst for the No.8 seed.
And so it proved as Fognini tied the match at two-sets-all, before taking the lead in the deciding set via a break off the Nadal serve, so vulnerable, so ineffective in the final three sets of the match.
It is not like Nadal did not have chances to find a way back in that final set, breaking back to make it 3-3, before dropping his serve again to hand Fognini the initiative at 4-3.
There were cries of "Rafa, Rafa" ringing around the sparse Arthur Ashe Stadium – hey it was well past 1 am in the morning in New York, they can only stay for so long -- at this point, urging the former champion to fight back, which came in the next game.
Nadal refused to lie down and play dead, breaking back immediately again to make it 4-4, before three straight winners, and terrific ones at those, allowed Fognini to break the Spaniard's serve one more time to take a 5-4 lead and put himself in a position to serve for the match.
By this time it looked like the Nadal fight had vanished into the black New York night and a tired backhand that went miles wide gave a near-disbelieving Fognini, who had already beaten Nadal twice this year coming into this match, the game, set and match.