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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, November 13, 2017

 
David Goffin

"I am off. My season is finished," said Rafael Nadal after bowing to David Goffin at the World Tour Finals.

LONDON—Tennis amplified is the Nitto ATP Finals tag line.

Tonight, it was tennis electrified—for two sets—then came the end of Rafael Nadal's season.

A determined David Goffin pulled the plug on a staggered and pained Nadal, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 at the O2 Arena.

Meeting the media minutes after the final ball, Nadal officially closed the curtain on his 2017 season.

"I am off. My season is finished," Nadal said. "I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play.

"But I am really not ready to play, no? I really fighted a lot during the match, but knowing that probably was a big chance to be the last match of the season. That what's going to be."




Pablo Carreno Busta will replace Nadal in the field to play the next two round-robin matches.

The 31-year-old Spaniard made history as the oldest year-end No. 1, but succumbed to the right knee tendinitis that forced him to withdraw from Paris earlier this month.

"Well, is not a decision at all. Is about the pain," Nadal said. "I cannot hold with enough power to keep playing. I tried, but seriously was miracle to be very close in the score during the match. It really don't make sense."

On his fifth match point, Goffin rapped his 14th ace down the middle wrapping up a two hour, 36-minute victory with a deep exhale of relief and arms raised as the David Bowie anthem “Heroes” blared over the sound system.

The first Belgian to qualify for the World Tour Finals earned his first win in three career meetings with Nadal after the top seed saved four match points to force a deciding set.

"On the paper it's the best win of my career, for sure, to beat Rafa," Goffin said. "But, yeah, I saw that he was struggling a little bit with his movement on the court, and his knee was suffering a little bit.

"But anyway it was tough. It was tough even if he was not moving 100 percent. He was hitting the ball really hard. It was not easy. It's never easy to finish a match, to finish a set against him. Even if I lost four match points in the second, I had no regret. I kept going in the third. Yes, it is the best win of my career, but it was, yeah, a special one against Rafa who was not 100 percent."

Nadal was not wearing any taping around his knee and did not call for the trainer tonight while Goffin had black kinesiology tape snaking around his left knee.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion looked hobbled, grimaced at times in the final set and played more slice backhands than he normally does as Goffin pushed him into obscure areas of the court while Nadal lacked his typical explosive first step.

"I know during the match (I would withdraw)," Nadal said. "Is not a decision I take five minutes ago. Is a decision that I take during the match. Even winning, even losing, I going to pull out because I was not enjoying on court at all. Was not fun to play like this.

"I really believed that I don't deserve after this great season to spend two more days on court with this terrible feelings, no? That's all. I am, of course, disappointed. But I am not going to cry. I had a great season. I really appreciate all the things that happened to me during the whole season. Thanks life for this unforgettable one."



The lithe Belgian was serving bigger and with more precision at the outset. Goffin broke for 2-1 and smacked successive aces confirming the break for 3-1.

The oldest year-end No. 1 in ATP history struck back in the sixth game with deeper returns. Goffin hit his second double fault then pasted a forehand into net as Nadal broke back for 3-all.

By then, Nadal’s blue shirt was saturated with sweat prompting the ball kid to run out between points to towel off plops of perspiration puddling the baseline.

Both men raised the shotmaking stakes in the 11th game. Nadal curled a running forehand winner down the line and Goffin answered immediately cracking a two-handed backhand bolt down the opposite sideline. Straddling the baseline, Goffin punished an inside-out forehand winner breaking for 6-5 with a clenched fist toward his box.

Serving for the set, nerves and the net stalled the Belgian. Goffin double faulted, found the tape with a forehand, then tripped his fourth double fault into net donating the break back.

A jittery tie break saw Goffin open a 5-3 lead before Nadal evened it. Goffin crunched a crosscourt forehand for set point and when Nadal netted a tight backhand, the Belgian had taken his first set from the world No. 1 in 54 minutes.

The lightest man in the Top 10 took the ball earlier and served with more vigor throughout the first set. Goffin hit 10 more winners—16 to 6—than Nadal, including pumping eight aces in the opener.

Goffin possesses a David Nalbandian-like ability to shorten the backswing of his backhand and redirect that shot nearly any place on the court. Cranking a crosscourt backhand he held for 4-3.

Then the Belgian gave Nadal a taste of the Spaniard’s own banana forehand. Curling a looping forehand winner down the line Goffin watched the ball dive-bomb into the corner while Nadal let out an incredulous wow. Goffin broke with a diagonal forehand for 5-3.

Serving for the match at the 85-minute mark, Goffin was two points from victory when Nadal whipped a backhand winner down the line for break point. Goffin’s sixth double fault gave back the break.

Goffin smacked his signature shot, the backhand down the line, for match point.

Playing short and down the middle, a defensive Nadal dodged it when Goffin steered a skittish forehand wide. That reprieve freed up the 16-time Grand Slam champion for a sweeping forehand down the line leveling at 5-all hurling a hearty left uppercut and a spirited “Vamos!”

The defiant top seed dug out of a love-40 hole fighting off three more match points, including a 93 mph missile of a backhand. On match point number four, Nadal drilled a diagonal forehand with such vigor many fans leaped out of their seat as if displaced by a bumpy ride.

Lifting his level, Nadal roared through the tie break with a backhand pass for 6-2. When Goffin netted a high forehand, the match was even after an hour and 53 minutes of dizzying action.

Three games into the final set, Nadal grimaced and clutched at his knee after saving two break points. He played a bail-out drop shot on the third break point that wasn’t close to the sideline was Goffin broke for 2-1.

Driving deep returns, Goffin broke again for 4-1 as a gimpy Nadal trudged slowly to his seat and rubbed his eyes with his hands. Rousing himself in one final surge, Nadal broke for 2-4.

On this night, Goffin would not be denied. Goffin fired his 14th ace to end it thrusting his arms high in the air.




Nadal lingered on court waving to fans in a sign this was his final good-bye of the season. The US Open champion showed a sense of humor with his parting words to the media. 

"Thank you and merry Christmas, everyone," Nadal said with a smile.


 

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