But victory came with a chilling moment in what was to be the final set, which left the 22-time Grand Slam champion bloodied.
As the Spaniard stretched to return a backhand to Fognini, Nadal’s racquet bounced off the pitch and inadvertently hit him in the face.
Nadal immediately squeezed his nose, dropping his racquet and losing the point. He lay down on the field near the referee’s chair and moved his hand away from his nose, showing the blood that had started to flow.
He needed a medical time-out to receive treatment for the injury, returning later to close out the set. After the win, Nadal played down the injury, saying he felt “a bit of pain, honestly, but okay”.
“(It was) just a strong blow. At first I thought I (it was) broken in my nose because it was a shock at the start. It was very painful,” Nadal explained.
“I’ve lost a bit of the – I don’t know how to say in English – but a bit of the feeling in my head. It’s about being a bit out of the world.
“I don’t know, it looks like it’s not (broken). I’m not sure yet. I don’t know. I think it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
He joked with a smile: “No, it’s just a shock in a way, I deserved to play so badly for a while!”
Besides coming back from a bloody nose, Nadal also had to struggle after a rare poor start.
The Spaniard committed 27 unforced errors in the first two sets, losing serve five times including four in a row. He called it “one of the worst starts, probably ever”.
“But that’s part of the game. You have to stay humble, you have to accept the situation. It hasn’t been an easy month for me, so I know that stuff can happen. It’s another opportunity for me . I’m still alive after a game like this. It means a lot.”
The victory means he will face Richard Gasquet in the third round of the US Open. Nadal has a famous record against the Frenchman, winning all of his 17 clashes.