Beijing – Spain's Rafael Nadal battled back from a big deficit to defeat Italy's Fabio Fognini 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the China Open, a victory that puts him one win away from reclaiming the No. 1 world ranking for the first time since mid-2011.
Fognini was up a set and had a break point that would have given him a 5-1 lead in the second set and a chance to serve out a lopsided victory, but Nadal showed his mettle to storm back and win 11 of the last 12 games to take the match.
The world No. 2 found himself up against an opponent determined to shorten the points as much as possible and sap all the rhythm out of the contest.
The strategy worked as a flustered Nadal lost his serve three times to drop the first set in 40 minutes.
The Beijing crowd impatiently waited for Nadal to turn the match around, but Fognini continued to frustrate the Spaniard by throwing caution to the wind and blasting forehand winners from improbable positions.
Nadal staved off two break points to get on the scoreboard in the second set at 3-1 and then Fognini squandered a golden opportunity by missing a forehand on break point in the sixth game that would have given him a virtually insurmountable 5-1 advantage.
The Spaniard seized the momentum to hold serve and then ratcheted up the intensity in a 10-minute seventh game in which he finally broke the Italian's serve by converting his sixth break point.
Nadal kept heaping on the pressure to get a second break of serve and then wrap up the set, while a dispirited Fognini sensed that he had let his opportunity slip away.
In the third set, Fognini's form dipped severely and Nadal raced to a comfortable 6-1 victory.
"It's true that his level of tennis for a long time in the match was very, very high. When you are playing against an opponent playing well, the thing that you have to do is try to push him to the limit and try to make him play very well for a very, very long time. That's something that I was not doing for the first set and a half," the Spaniard was quoted as saying on the ATP World Tour Web site.
"Then the situation changed a little bit. I played a little bit better, played with a little bit more rhythm, and he felt that he needed to play another shot to win the point. But it was too late. I was very lucky."
Nadal, who captured his second U.S. Open title last month, remained undefeated on hard courts this season with the win and will next take on Czech Tomas Berdych, a 7-5, 6-2 winner over American John Isner.
In other men's action Friday at the China Open, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 win over American Sam Querrey and Frenchman Richard Gasquet upset third-seeded Spaniard David Ferrer 6-3, 6-4.
To hold on to the No. 1 ranking for another week, Djokovic must win the tournament and Berdych must upset Nadal in the semifinals.
The China Open is part of the ATP Tour's post-U.S. Open Asia swing, which includes events in Malaysia, Thailand, China and Japan.