Nadal Holds Off Determined Goffin
Spaniard to face Djokovic on Saturday
“I think it was a very good match and nice to watch. Goffin and I played at a really high level,” said Nadal. “It was a very tough match that I had to play at my highest level to be able to make the semi-finals. It's one of the matches that you go back home with a lot of adrenaline and feel satisfied for the work done.”
Nadal is still in position to become the first player to sweep all three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court events, Roland Garros and Barcelona in the same season. He remains undefeated on clay this year (13-0) and picks up his tour-leading 32nd win of the season. Nadal also boosts his FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Goffin to 2-0, dropping just four games in defeating the Belgian last month at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.
By reaching the Madrid semi-finals, the Spaniard also takes the top spot from Roger Federer in the Emirates ATP Race to London, which tallies the race points accumulated starting Jan. 1 of this year. The 360 points Nadal earns for a semi-final showing puts him slightly ahead of Federer (4,095 vs. 4,045). He'll earn an additional 240 points if he makes the Madrid final and 640 points for winning the title. Nadal can further extend his lead with more wins next week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, which Federer is not playing.
Next up for the Spaniard is second seed Novak Djokovic, who moved into the final four when sixth seed Kei Nishikori withdrew due to right wrist pain. This will be the 50th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting between Nadal and Djokovic. The Serbian leads their rivalry 26-23 and has won their past seven matches, as well as their past three matches on clay.
“It's going to be a very tough match against one of the best players in tennis history. I know that to be able to have chances, I have to give 100 per cent. I have to play really well or I'm not going to have many chances,” said Nadal. “I think I've done my homework. Tomorrow is a day to try to give my best. Hopefully I'll be ready for that.”
Nadal leads Djokovic 14-7 in clay-court matches, but their rivalry on the surface has become much more even in recent years. The Spaniard won their first nine matches on clay before Djokovic picked up his maiden victory on the dirt in the 2011 Madrid final. Nadal won their only other meeting in Madrid, a 2009 semi-final battle that ended in a third-set tie-break. Their most recent meeting last year saw Djokovic prevail in the Rome quarter-finals.
“The rivalry has made me better. When you play people that are so good, it always makes you give 100 per cent. I have taken titles from him and he has taken titles from me,” said Nadal. “The reality is that it's been a really good era because of the matches between Djokovic, Federer and me. We made it to the final rounds of the most important tournaments many times. I think it has made a lot of people to come watch tennis, so that's a very positive thing.”
Despite the loss, Goffin has established himself as a prime contender for deep runs in Rome and Roland Garros. He’s recorded semi-final showings at both ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court events so far this year. The Belgian has also scored three wins on clay this season over players in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, defeating Dominic Thiem and Djokovic in Monte-Carlo, and Milos Raonic in Madrid.
Nadal and Goffin held serve throughout the first set, but took drastically different roads to the tie-break. Nadal comfortably held serve, while Goffin saved four break points at 2-2 and another two at 3-3. However, the Belgian controlled far more rallies than his previous meeting with Nadal in Monte-Carlo, frequently throwing his whole body into forehand winners.
But it was Goffin who blinked first in the tie-break. A pair of openings for Goffin forehand winners ultimately ended in a pair of unforced errors by the Belgian, giving Nadal a commanding 5/2 lead. The Spaniard converted on his second set point to take the early advantage.
Nadal scored the first break of the match at 1-1 in the second set, making good on his ninth break point chance when Goffin sent a backhand wide. Both players produced shots worthy of the highlight reel in the seventh game with Goffin serving at 2-4, but the Spaniard grabbed the insurance break and then served out the match to advance after one hour and 59 minutes.