The Pick: Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini, Australian Open fourth round

The Pick: Rafael Nadal vs. Fabio Fognini, Australian Open fourth round

Less than a year removed from double-ankle surgery, Fognini faces a monumental challenge from the world No. 2.

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook and are subject to change

Back in full force after double-ankle surgery in May 2020, Fabio Fognini dismissed Aussie hometown favorite Alex de Minaur handily on Friday night, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, to set up a 17th career clash with Rafael Nadal. Despite the Spaniard’s 12-4 head-to-head record over Fognini, the Italian remains one of his most threatening opponents. He does have one win over Rafa in a hard-court major, coming from two sets and a break down to stun the Spaniard at the 2015 US Open.

Nadal has been fighting a nagging back injury all month long, but has yet to drop a set in Melbourne. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Nadal’s injured back is not a cause for concern; he's listed as a massive -670 favorite. Defeating Nadal to reach his first major quarterfinal since 2011 is a tall ask for Fognini, though he has proven that his game can cause serious problems for the world No. 2. 

Few players hit the ball on-the-rise as well as Fognini. If he’s on, not only can he mitigate Nadal’s heavy forehand, but he can also crack clean winners to eliminate Nadal's trademark defense.

The risk level in taking Nadal’s forehand right off-the-bounce is off the charts, but Fognini is self-aware. He knows he will not beat Nadal unless he takes plenty of risks.

At the 2015 US Open, Fognini gave the world a master class in taking the ball on the rise:

Nadal knows how dangerous Fognini can be, so expect him to be the aggressor throughout the match, especially on the first ball.

Fognini will surely hit plenty of incredible winners—but over time, Nadal’s physicality should wear him down. 

Fognini often plays to the level of his opponents, which is good news for fans eager to see a battle. But less than a year removed from two ankle surgeries, Fognini’s fitness level might play a factor. It’s been a fantastic and unexpected run for the Italian, but it will likely come to a screeching halt on Saturday. 

The Pick: Rafael Nadal

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