Rafael Nadal once again showcased his legendary fighting spirit to bounce back from the brink of both victory and defeat Thursday at the Mutua Madrid Open. After David Goffin saved two match points in the second set, Nadal erased four for his opponent in a decisive tie-break to advance by the finest of margins, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(9), in three hours and nine minutes.
One night after he was in the stands for Real Madrid’s great escape in the Champions League semi-finals, Nadal performed his own bit of magic at the Caja Magica. It has been a 24 hours to remember for Spanish supporters, with the 35-year-old home favourite getting the Manolo Santana Stadium rocking like Madrid’s Santago Bernabeu Stadium, sending fans from stunned silence to delirium in a matter of moments.
“It was an unforgettable night. The spirit that the Real Madrid team has is just incredible,” Nadal said after his victory. “For me today, in some ways it has been an inspiration in the way I have been fighting all my tennis career.
“Honestly, it was a very tough match. I think I played at a very high level. But at the same time I am not completely happy because I have to finish the match in straight sets, without a doubt.”
Nadal saved two of Goffin’s four match points with drop shots, and a third when the Belgian netted a short forehand from an attacking position. By winning the decider, Nadal extended his perfect Madrid tie-break record to 10-0 since the event moved to clay in 2009. He also prevented Goffin from becoming the fourth man to beat him from match point down on clay, with the last instance coming in Buenos Aires in 2016 against Dominic Thiem.
“Three hours and 10 [minutes] on court, that helps to increase my physical performance,” Nadal added. “A very important victory, saving match points. That’s confidence, that gives me the chance to keep going. I need matches and I need a day like to day to be fitter sooner.”
After coming through a rocky opening set, Nadal redlined early in the second and looked on course for a straightforward victory in Manolo Santana Stadium. But as the Spaniard’s game dipped slightly at closing time, Goffin played some of his best tennis of the match to extend the contest, winning four straight games from 3-5.
The tense final set seemed destined for a tie-break, and the drama only increased in a frantic finish. Nadal was left standing when Goffin went wide on the Spaniard’s fourth match point — and second of the tie-break.
More than three hours earlier, Nadal took the court seeking a record-tying 37th ATP Masters 1000 title but quickly found himself down an early break in Manolo Santana Stadium. But from 2-3, he managed to win the final four games of the opening set in spite of some uncharacteristic errors.
Nadal took command of the match with a pristine eight-point stretch to start set two. After Goffin battled through deuce to hold in the opening game, Nadal found a new level to hold then break at love. The Spaniard began to attack with more pop and precision on his groundstrokes, firing winners off both wings as he began is ascent. The first real signal of intent came on a lasered down-the-line backhand which helped him get on the board in the stanza.
The third seed was cruising on serve in the second until three loose errors gave Goffin a look at 4-5. The Belgian took full advantage to force a decider, but could not get over the line against Nadal, who advanced to a record-extending 99th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final and a 16th in Madrid.
Nadal has now done his part to set up an all-Spanish quarter-final against Carlos Alcaraz, who will follow him on the stadium court against ninth seed Cameron Norrie. Nadal beat his countryman in the Madrid second round last year before making it 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head with a three-set win in the Indian Wells semi-finals.
Nadal is also undefeated against Norrie at 4-0, including a straight-sets win in the Acapulco final in February.