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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 12, 2017

 
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal beat David Goffin, 7-6 (3), 6-2, to set up his 50th career clash with reigning champion Novak Djokovic in the Madrid semifinals.

Photo credit: Mutua Madrid Open

Unleashing topspin that trampolined off the red clay, Rafael Nadal continued his elevation through the Madrid field.

The fourth-seeded Nadal lifted his level at critical stages defeating the dangerous David Goffin, 7-6 (3), 6-2, rising to his 10th Mutua Madrid Open semifinal and seizing the top spot in the ATP Race to London in the process.

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A booming forehand, dynamic movement and relentless pressure on his opponent’s serve helped Nadal seal a quality win in one minute under two hours.




The victory vaults the four-time champion into his record-extending 50th career clash against reigning champion Novak Djokovic.

The second-seeded Serbian advanced to his fifth Madrid semifinal without striking a shot.

Kei Nishikori, Djokovic’s scheduled quarterfinal opponent, withdrew from the tournament this morning due to inflammation and pain in his right wrist that had sidelined him since Miami in March.

Djokovic holds a 26-23 lead over Nadal in a fierce rivalry that has seen the 12-time Grand Slam champion win 11 of their last 12 meetings, including a 7-5, 7-6 (4), triumph in their most recent meeting in the 2016 Rome quarterfinals.

"It's going to be a very tough match against one of the best players in tennis history," Nadal told the media in Madrid. "I know that to be able to have chances, I have to give 100 percent. Well, I think that I've been playing at a high level during many weeks. I know tomorrow is going to be a day that either I play really well or I'm not going to have many chances.

"I think I've done my homework. Tomorrow is a day to try to give my best. Hopefully I'll be ready for that."

The 30-year-old Spaniard, who was highly critical of his level of play in his opening-round win over nemesis Fabio Fognini, should be pleased by his performance against one of the sport’s most accurate returners.

Nadal served 70 percent, saved all five break points he faced and showed a willingness to step into the court and take the initiative at critical stages. His only real source of frustration was the fact he converted just two of 14 break points. Though a stubborn Goffin, who fought off all six break points he faced in the opening set, deserves credit for his assertive play on several break points.

The match was a rematch of last month’s Monte Carlo semifinals, which Nadal won 6-3, 6-1.

The consistent length of Nadal’s returns troubled Goffin in the fourth game as he faced triple break point.

A leaping smash and sliding ace down the middle saved the first two break points. On the third, Nadal sent a two-handed backhand into the top of the tape. Goffin spit up a double fault for a fourth break point, but angled a service winner wide to erase it.

As Nadal’s coaching team—Uncle Toni Nadal and Carlos Moya—shifted in their seats, Goffin made a stand denying all four break points to level, 2-all.

In the next game, Goffin applied pressure earning his first break of the match, but Nadal battered a series of forehands to quiet the threat.

The slender Belgian showed competitive spine in the sixth game saving his sixth break point hitting some heavier topspin forehands to elicit a backhand error.

Unable to crack Goffin’s serve, Nadal encountered his first turbulence on serve falling into a love-30 hole in the 11th game. Drilling a bold diagonal forehand off the line sparked Nadal, who won four points in a row holding for 6-5.

In the tiebreak, one miscue from the normally precise Belgian cost Goffin dearly.

Dragging Nadal forward with a drop shot, Goffin had an open expanse of court, but overhit his forehand long and cringed at the transgression that gave his opponent a 4-2 lead. A pair of crosscourt forehands set up a diagonal crunching forehand winner as Nadal earned four set points.

When Goffin spun his first double fault of the day, Nadal snatched the 71-minute opening set.

Imposing his forehand, Nadal challenged Goffin's forehand at the right times.

"I think I am playing better with my forehand this year," Nadal said. "I said the first day, I didn't play well with my forehand, so that's the thing that I need to recover to keep having chances.

"I think yesterday improved from the day before. Today I played better than yesterday with the forehand, no? So today is a day for being happy about what happened, and to think about try to do one more step forward tomorrow to hit a little bit better even if is possible. That is the work of every day. Every day that you win matches, you have more confidence. And let's see."

Cumulative pressure from the crunching topspin combinations he faced, finally caught up to Goffin in the third game as he fell into a triple break point hole.




On his ninth break point of the day, Nadal rattled out an error earning the first break for 2-1.

The four-time champion hit some stinging serves snuffing out four break points, including knocking off a high backhand volley on the fourth break point. That spirited stand helped him back up the break.



An exceptional seventh game escalated into exhilarating height as both men lifted their levels of play.

A running forehand slapshot down the line earned Nadal a third break point in the seventh game.

That strike left Goffin scratching his head then he answered with his own dazzle. Racing back to the baseline chasing a lob, Goffin cracked a spinning backhand winner that had the crowd—and Nadal—applauding his ingenuity.

Intensity and shotmaking spiked again.

The pair came nose-to-nose at net as Nadal won a volley exchange for a fifth break point. Flashing a series of crosscourt backhands, Nadal drew the error celebrating his second break with a furious double-fist pump. Targeting the Goffin forehand return, as he did on key points, Nadal drew one final errant return to close.

Nadal registered his ATP-best 32nd victory of the season, raising his 2017 clay-court record to a pristine 13-0.

Continuing his quest for a fifth Madrid title, Nadal can create clay-court history this spring and become the first man to win Barcelona, the three Masters clay-court events—Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome—and Roland Garros in the same season. 

The nine-time Roland Garros champion has not defeated the reigning Roland Garros since the 2014 French Open final.

So what does Nadal need to do to snap his seven-match slide that's seen Djokovic tear off 15 consecutive sets?

"Tomorrow I'll try to give my best," Nadal said. "There are matches that if you play your good tennis, you have chances. If he plays at a good level, he's going to win. I think it's not going to make a lot of difference. If we both play well, let's see what happens. It can go either way."

 

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