But world No 18 Fognini is a fine player on clay and looked close to producing a first bagel set on clay against Nadal before eventually getting over the line with a 6-4, 6-2 win.
Five weeks before the French Open kicks off at Roland Garros, Fognini produced some brilliant tennis on Monte Carlo's red clay to snatch his ninth ATP singles title.
It was a tough day and he was a hard opponent.
After going out in the third round of the Australian Open, Fognini had won only one match and lost six times before this tournament. I prepared for this final as best I could, I knew it would be tough, since Dusan has my ex-coach (Jose Perlas).
"The problem is that sometimes we are used to being very, very solid all the time, and even coming back from injuries, winning and winning and winning, and things are not that easy". Yes, he could freeze on the big stage in his first Grand Slam final, and yes, Fognini could come on court and play lights out as he occasionally is capable of doing.
World number 2 Nadal will face the Italian Fognini for the 15th time in their career and the Spaniard holds an 11-3 head-to-head advantage over the 13th seed. "I tried in the 3-0, I tried in the 4-0, but then with the 5-0, 30-Love, is over, or 40-Love, it's over".
He finally bowed out on the fourth match point, having saved three of these while 5-0 down in the second set and - having fended off the prospect of a rare bagel - Nadal recovered to 5-2, but his opponent closed out at the next serving opportunity. "Being in the semi-finals again here means a lot to me". But looking at "average" levels of the two players over the last 12 months, there's not much between the two players, and therefore it is hard not to consider the [2.68] about the Serbian to get an unlikely (at the start of the week) first Masters title.
"I was lucky to escape that moment and then I played better. I really want to win this title now".
There's no match history between these two players. "I'm still unaware of my achievement in Monte Carlo".
"I had the worst nightmare, falling down 5-1".