BEIJING (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal moved within reach of his first hardcourt title in almost two years by extracting a modicum of revenge on new Italian foe Fabio Fognini with a 7-5 6-3 win in their China Open semi-final on Saturday.
The flamboyant Fognini became the first man to beat Nadal from two sets to love down at a grand slam when he took out the power-hitting Spaniard in the third round of the U.S. Open last month.
It was one of three wins the unseeded Italian had secured over the 14-times grand slam champion this year but Nadal ensured there would not be a fourth on a chilly day at the National Tennis Center in Beijing.
The Spaniard came out top of an unconventional opening set which featured five breaks of serve and secured the crucial one in the sixth game of the second when Fognini struck a backhand long.
A jittery Nadal, who has slumped to eight in the world following injury and a dip in form, wasted three match points before securing victory and a spot in Sunday's final against world number one Novak Djokovic or David Ferrer, who meet later on Saturday.
"It was a tough first set, as I expected. Tough match in general. But I think I played well," Nadal said.
"I played much closer to the baseline than the previous days. That's very important for me, very important for my game. The position for me on the court today was more aggressive, and that's why I was able to beat him today after a couple of defeats."
Nadal, 29, last won a hard court title 21 months ago in Qatar. He has won three times this year on clay and grass and is set to book a place at the end of season ATP Finals in London next month.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)