The 11-time champion’s 6-4 6-2 loss in tricky conditions ended a series of 25 consecutive sets won on his favourite clay.
Monte Carlo: Rafa Nadal suffered a shock 6-4 6-2 semi-final defeat against flamboyant Italian Fabio Fognini at the Monte Carlo Masters on Saturday, showing rare signs of weakness five weeks before the French Open.
The 11-time champion’s loss in tricky conditions ended a series of 25 consecutive sets won on his favourite clay as Fognini set up a final showdown against Serbian Dusan Lajovic.
“It was a tough day and he was a difficult opponent,” said Nadal, who has a 71-5 record in the principality. “I am coming from low moments in terms of injuries, and in terms of the mental side it has not been easy to accept all the things that have been going on.
“It was this kind of day that everything was wrong.”
In windy conditions at the Monte Carlo Country Club Nadal, who has also won 11 French Open titles, was overwhelmed by Fognini, who entered centre court with all guns blazing.
The Italian was on a five-match losing streak when he entered the tournament but Fognini’s unpredictability, added to the weather conditions, were eventually too much for the Spanish world number two who bowed out on the fourth match point.
It was world number 18 Fognini’s fourth career win against Nadal in 15 encounters and his third on tennis’ slowest surface.
Nadal had been bidding to match Roger Federer’s record of 50 Masters finals.
Earlier, Lajovic reached his first Masters final when he mastered the wind to beat Russian Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-1.
Lajovic trailed 3-0 and 5-1 in the opening set before going through the gears.
The 10th-seeded Medvedev could not respond as wind gusts swept across centre court and Lajovic quickly moved 4-0 up in the second set against a frustrated opponent, who bowed out on the second match point.
“It was an incredible match today,” said world number 48 Lajovic, the lowest-ranked player to reach the final here since Hicham Arazi in 2001.
“I had the worst nightmare, falling down 5-1. But I won 10 games in a row, so I was able to find my rhythm and my game.
“In windy conditions like today, it was impossible to play real tennis and in the end I was able to hit my forehands better than him. I’m still unaware of my achievement in Monte Carlo.”