Rafael Nadal skipped the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals at the end of 2014 due to appendicitis, undergoing surgery on November 3. The Spaniard could not find the rhythm after lifting the trophy at Roland Garros that year, struggling with form and injuries and not making the best start of 2015. Rafa lost in the quarter-final at the Australian Open and Indian Wells and failed to lift the trophy on clay during the spring swing for the first time since 2004! Barely staying in the top-10, Nadal bounced back with the title in Stuttgart and celebrated on grass for the first time in five years. The Spaniard experienced early losses at Queen’s and Wimbledon and took a couple of weeks off before returning to clay in Hamburg at the end of July. It was Nadal’s first appearance in Hamburg since winning the title in 2008 and his first post-Wimbledon clay event in eight years! Rafa made a shaky start and lost the opening set to Fernando Verdasco in the first match.
Nadal shifted into a higher gear and stormed over his compatriot after dropping two games in sets two and three. Things were not much better in round two versus the young Czech Jiri Vesely. Rafa suffered four breaks in a hard-fought 6-4, 7-6 victory that required two hours and 11 minutes. The former champion raised his level in the quarter-final to topple Pablo Cuevas and raced past Andreas Seppi in the semis to find himself in the title match. Rafa battled against Fabio Fognini and scored a 7-5, 7-5 victory in two hours and 34 minutes for the third title of the season and the biggest since Roland Garros a year ago. The Spaniard won 14 points more than the Italian and had to work hard to secure the triumph. Nadal fended off nine out of 14 break chances and secured seven breaks to seal the deal ahead of tie breaks or a decider.
Rafael Nadal claimed the Hamburg crown in 2015 over Fabio Fognini.
Fognini had twice as many winners and kept the points on his racquet. Still, he sprayed 60 unforced errors to ruin his opportunities for at least a set. Fabio challenged Rafa in the extended exchanges and lost ground in the quickest rallies, where the Spaniard secured his victory. The opening game turned into open war, and Fognini converted the fourth break chance after 12 minutes. Rafa pulled the break back in the next one when Fabio netted a forehand before repeating the same mistake in game three to find himself 2-1 down. We were yet to see a hold after half an hour, as Nadal broke back for the second time in game four to level the score at 2-2. The Italian survived games six and eight to remain on the positive side and follow the Spaniard’s pace. The 11th game brought another marathon, and Rafa saved a break point thanks to a perfect drop shot. He stole Fognini’s serve with a return winner in the next one to take the opener 7-5 in 77 minutes!
Fabio repelled three break chances in the second set’s second game. Still, he could not repeat that two games later when his forehand landed long to push Rafa 3-1 in front. Nadal squandered two game points in game five and got broken to keep Fognini alive. The Italian grabbed another break in game seven to claim three straight games and move in front. From 40-15 down in game eight, Rafa climbed back to take four consecutive points and erase the deficit. Instead of building on that, Nadal got broken again a few minutes later and fell 5-4 down. Fognini earned two set points on serve in game ten and squandered a massive chance to grab the set. He wasted two set points and allowed Nadal to break back and lock the result at 5-5. The Spaniard had to work hard in the 11th game, saving three break points to gather a boost and send the pressure to the other side. Rafa rattled off four straight points on the return at 6-5 to cross the finish line and celebrate the first ATP 500 title in a year and a half.