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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, May 5, 2022


Rafael Nadal squandered three match points and saved four match points subduing David Goffin 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(9) battling into his 16th Madrid quarterfinal.

Photo credit: Getty

Shadow swallowed the red clay as Rafael Nadal faced dire dilemma in the decisive tiebreaker.

Conjuring creative forehand droppers, Nadal pulled off great escape in Madrid’s Magic Box.

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A fierce Nadal fought off four match points in the tiebreaker edging David Goffin 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(11) in a pulsating Madrid thriller.

Short on match play and practice, Nadal squandered two match points in the second set, watched Goffin save a third in the breaker then deployed some gutsy drop shots sparking his comeback in the breaker.

A resilient triumph raises Nadal’s 2022 record to 22-1 and gives Spanish fans a moment to collectively exhale after a rollercoaster ride of a match.

"I have been fighting all my tennis career," said Nadal, who improved to 10-0 in Madrid tiebreakers. "Honestly it has been a very tough match. I think David played at a very high level. At the same time, I am not completely happy because I think I have to finish the match in straight sets and I didn’t do that."

"A victory 3 hours, 10 on court that helps to increase my physical performance and a very important victory saving match points—that’s confidence—that gives me the chance to keep going.

"I need matches and I need days like today to be fit."

Prevailing through three hours, nine minutes of dizzying drama, Nadal scraped into his 16th Madrid quarterfinal—and 99th Masters 1000 quarterfinal—doing his part to create a battle of the ages.

Miami Open champion Carlos Alcaraz beat 2021 Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3 to set up a spectacular Spanish blockbuster quarterfinal rematch vs. Nadal in Madrid tomorrow.

Asked about facing Alcaraz for the second straight year in Madrid, Nadal said the Barcelona champion is the better player now.

"Well, it's a very, very tough match, of course. I think that today, he is better than me and he has a good dynamic, a good momentum," Nadal said of Alcaraz. "I am conscious on what we have right now. I think I am a very realistic person, and that doesn't take me to not believe that I can win or that I can do it, but today I think that Alcaraz is in a better physical state of mind, is more fit.

"I came here without playing. He's younger, so he has that extra energy. I'm clear who, from the beginning, has some kind of advantage in tomorrow's match. But in that regard, I will try to do as much as possible to be competitive. Of course tomorrow's match will try to win, but whatever the outcome is, that it's something positive for me in the future."

Both Nadal and the 60th-ranked Goffin, who won two qualifying matches to reach the main draw, exuded character and commitment today.

Amping up the pace of his forehand, the slender Belgian actually hit more forehand winners today than Nadal—27 to 20.

Former world No. 7 Goffin stunned Spanish fans saving match points in the second set to spark a five-game tear that saw him turn a 3-5 second set deficit into a 1-0 lead in the third.

Down 4-6 in the tiebreaker, Nadal ripped a serve winner to save match point No. 1 then caught a break when Goffin, who had a good look at a forehand down the line to end the match, netted the shot on Match Point No. 2. Nadal nullified the third match point with a clever forehand drop shot winner. Goffin pounded a bounce smash for a fourth match point only to see Nadal carve out another forehand drop shot to save it.

On his fourth match point, a fired-up Nadal closed when Goffin scattered a forehand down the line narrowly wide.

Deadlocked at 2-all, Nadal slapped successive double faults facing first danger at love-30. Bending a banana forehand pass down the line drew the Australian Open champion even.

Tennis Express

Chair umpire Richard Haigh hit the Spaniard with a time violation warning when the serve clock showed zero prompting Nadal to mutter “unbelievable.” An unsettled Nadal committed a pair of forehand errors as Goffin earned the first break for 3-2.

Unable to relish the gift, Goffin responded with two double faults in a row then sprayed a forehand donating the break back at 15 in the sixth game.

Another double fault and misfired forehand put Nadal in a break-point bind. The five-time champion saved it on a netted backhand from Goffin and held firm for 4-3.

Facing relentless pressure on his serve, the 60th-ranked Belgian dug out of a love-40 deficit flashing a forehand down the line to draw even.

The challenge for Goffin was trying to amp up his aggression without piling up unforced errors taking more risk on red clay. Goffin’s ambition got the best of him—he committed consecutive forehand errors as Nadal break for 5-3.

Stepping into the court, Nadal slashed a forehand winner snatching the 47-minute opener with a clenched fist.

Despite three double faults and some ups and downs on the forehand, Nadal was striking with more menace winning four games in a row to turn a 2-3 deficit into a one-set lead. Nadal hit four more winners—10 to 6—in a first set that featured 14 errors from both.

A crackling crosscourt return sent Goffin into a triple-point chasm in the second set. Nadal again displaced the Belgian then blasted a backhand winner down the line scoring his third break of the day for a 2-1 lead.

Continuing to win the battle of court positioning, Nadal was driving the ball with depth as he held to confirm the break in the fourth game.

Goffin saved a match point holding in the ninth game. The Belgian, who owns an ATP Finals win over Nadal, nullified a second match point with a diagonal forehand winner on the Spaniard’s serve.

Streaming forward, Goffin angled off an exquisite sliding backhand drop volley breaking the Spaniard for the first time in the second set leveling after 10 games.

Pressure and lack of match play conspired against the 13-time Roland Garros champion. Nadal brain-cramped believed his serve was out and was not prepared for Goffin’s return. That mental miscue gave Goffin a se point. Nadal saved it with the slider serve wide and a forehand winner.

Rapping a forehand winner gave Goffin a second set point. Jumping on a mis-hit Nadal forehand, Goffin drilled a diagonal forehand winner snatching the 62-minute second set with his second straight break and a firm “Allez!”

The 21-time Grand Slam champion was 114-2 when winning the opening set in his last 116 matches but found himself pushed to the limit by the former Top 10 opponent across the net.

A slick forehand swing volley winner helped Goffin erase a break point—he held for his fifth straight game to open the final set.

Nadal stamped a pair of love holds leveling after eight games.

A gritty Goffin saved eight of 11 break points, including both break points he faced in the final set. Sharper serving helped Nadal get through a tight final set.

"I need that serve in the third, because I see that I need something else, so have been tough to win points on return," Nadal said. "I was not able to return long enough, and he was taking advantage from the first shot.

"Then especially here in Madrid, it's much more difficult to come back to the point when the opponent is taking advantage from the beginning of the point. Especially when you play against a very talented player like David. He has all the shots and he's able to open the court very easy.

"So I needed my serve to stay in the match and I go a little bit more for it. Honestly, it worked because I start to win free points in that third set, and that helped me to arrive to the end with chances."

Drama escalated into the decisive tiebreaker. Credit Goffin for continuing to go for his shots and press the issue building that 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker. Nadal hit winners to save three of the four match points with Goffin netting that forehand down the line at 6-5 that would have ended the match.

Nadal lashed a laser diagonal forehand for his fourth match point and closed an exhilarating encounter in three hours, nine minutes.  


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