MADRID (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal saved four match points to beat Belgian David Goffin 6-3 5-7 7-6(9) in an absorbing match on Thursday to move into the Madrid Open quarter-finals and set up a mouth-watering clash with teenaged compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.
Just as his beloved Real Madrid came back from the brink to reach the Champions League soccer final on Wednesday, 35-year-old Nadal found extra energy in reserve to win a lengthy tiebreak.
The victory was the 1,050th win of his career as he moved into a Masters 1000 quarter-final for the 99th time and he was lifted by Real’s dramatic 3-1 win over Manchester City achieved with the help of two last-gasp goals.
“Yesterday was an unforgettable night. The spirit that Real Madrid had was just incredible. For me today, in some way, it was an inspiration,” Nadal said in a post-match interview with the ATP.
“It was a tough match, David played at a very high level but at the same time I am not completely happy, because I think I had to finish the match in straight sets, without a doubt.”
Uncharacteristic errors from third seed Nadal allowed Goffin to break first and go 3-2 up in the opening set but the Spaniard quickly broke back twice to serve out the set, sealing it with a venomous crosscourt forehand winner.
Nadal’s stroke-making became more confident in the second set as he used every corner of the court to pepper winners past Goffin, who had no answers.
But the experienced Belgian eventually found his range as he rallied from 3-5 down, breaking twice to force a third set.
Playing only his second match after returning from a rib injury, Nadal looked rusty as he let his advantage slip when Goffin saved two match points in the second set, much to the shock of the home fans at the Manolo Santana Stadium.
The third set went to an absorbing tiebreak, where Goffin bounced back from 4-1 down to nearly clinch victory before Nadal prevailed in just over three hours.
“Three hours 10 (minutes) on court helps increase my physical performance. A very important victory saving match points, that (gives me) confidence to keep going,” Nadal added.
“I need matches and I need days like today to be fit.”
BIRTHDAY BOY ALCARAZ
Alcaraz, who turned 19 on Thursday, beat Briton Cameron Norrie 6-4 6-7(4) 6-3 to set up a third match with his idol Nadal.
Nadal beat Alcaraz in straight sets in Madrid a year ago and the pair met in March in the Indian Wells semi-finals, where Nadal won in three sets but not before the teenager underlined his huge potential.
Earlier, defending champion Alexander Zverev moved into the quarter-finals after Lorenzo Musetti was forced to retire due to a thigh injury when he was trailing 6-3 1-0.
Sixth seed Andrey Rublev dispatched Briton Dan Evans 7-6(7) 7-5 and the Russian will face fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 6-4.
Top seed Novak Djokovic earned a day of rest after his last-16 opponent Andy Murray pulled out due to illness.
The Serb will next face Hubert Hurkacz who defeated Dusan Lajovic 7-5 6-3.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)