Italy's Fabio Fognini pulled off a big upset here Saturday, ending Rafa Nadal's bid for a record-extending 12th Monte Carlo title with a straight set win over the Spaniard in the semifinal.
The San Remo-born Fognini, ranked No. 18 in the world, defeated Nadal 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 37 minutes, only his fourth win over the Spanish great in their 15th encounter.
Disturbed by the winds swirling over center court at Monte-Carlo Country Club, Nadal never looked comfortable.
Nadal had survived a scare at the hands of Guido Pella of Argentina, who pushed the Spaniard hard in their quarterfinal clash, but he had no answers against Fognini, who ended the world No. 2's run of 18 back-to-back wins at Monte-Carlo, including 25 consecutive sets.
Both players had a slow start, with four out of the first five games going against serve as Nadal took a 3-1 lead, only to see Fognini rally back to 4-4 before winning two straight games to take the set.
Fognini pushed the pedal to the floor in the second set, racing to a 5-0 lead against a sub-par Nadal and survived a late rally by the Spaniard to prevail 6-2 and advance to his first-ever final in a Masters 1000 tournament.
"I played one of my worst matches on clay in 14 years," Nadal said afterward. "It's difficult to find any positives - I deserved to lose."
Nadal, 32, was playing his first tournament in a month after taking time off for the sake of his aching knees.
"I played a very bad match against a good player. In that situation, you have to lose," he said.
"I had a bad feeling, it was a tough day. I'm 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 during recent weeks," Nadal said.
The 31-year-old Fognini will take on Serbia's Dusan Lajovic, another debutant in a Masters 1000 final, who defeated Daniil Medvedev of Russia 7-5, 6-1 in a little more than 90 minutes in Saturday's other semifinal.
Medvedev, the world No. 14, reached the semis by staging a big upset his own in the previous round, sending home Serbia's Novak Djokovic, the first seed and world No. 1.
Lajovic, ranked 48th in the world, improved his head-to-head record against Medvedev to 2-1. Sunday's final will be his first match with Fognini.