Rafael Nadal has insisted his row with Fabio Fognini is in the past, despite crackling tensions, as he downed his Italian nemesis 7-5 6-3 to reach the China Open final.
Nadal denied an extra edge to the match in Beijing on Saturday, but his lukewarm handshake at the net and apparent exchanges between his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, and Fognini told a different story.
Fognini unleashed an angry tirade at Nadal during a changeover at this year’s Hamburg final, yelling “don’t break my balls” at the Spaniard and complaining about his slow play.
Nadal won the bad-tempered Hamburg final, but Fognini stunned the Spaniard in last month’s US Open third round, becoming only the fourth player to beat him three times in the same season.
However, Nadal, after grinding past Fognini to set up a final against defending champion Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer, denied any lingering bad blood with the world No.28.
“No rivalry at all. No, no, no. I don’t know what’s going on, seriously,” Nadal told reporters.
“We had the issue that we had in Hamburg, and that’s it. No problems.
“At the US Open no problems. No problems today. Very easy match in terms of attitude for both of us. No problem at all. Very, very easy I think for the umpire.”
Fognini also said the Hamburg row was in the past, but indicated ill-feeling may remain against Nadal’s team and in particular his uncle Toni, who was seen angrily gesticulating courtside on Saturday.
Both players started Saturday’s match unconvincingly, suffering two breaks of serve each in the opening games, with Nadal also sending down three double-faults.
They steadied to take it to 6-5 for Nadal, but Fognini wobbled as he served to stay in the set, wilting in the rallies as he finally gave up the decisive break and smashed the ball into the stands in anger.
The second set was attritional until Nadal leapt ahead with a break for 4-2, and the suddenly invigorated Spaniard won the next game to love to stand on the brink of victory.
Fognini saved two match points before holding serve in a gripping eighth game, but by now the Nadal juggernaut was fully in motion and he ploughed across the line in the next game.
In the women’s semis, Timea Bacsinszky upset Ana Ivanovic 5-7 6-4 6-1, a result that will push her into the women’s top 10.
The 12th-seeded Swiss will next play Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6 6-3 6-4 to reach her second straight final after she retired from last week’s Wuhan title match.