David Goffin  def. Rafael Nadal  7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-4
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals after he fought but ultimately struggled physically against David Goffin. It had been a legitimate question ever since his withdrawal from the Paris Masters. It was always going to be a race against time for the Spaniard to be ready in time.
Coming into press soon after his defeat, he said: “I am off. My season is finished. 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 [fought] a lot during the match, but knowing that probably was a big chance to be the last match of the season.
“Is not a decision at all. Is about the pain. 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.”
He added that he had known during the match that this was inevitable and that he had not been enjoying himself on the court anymore.
When asked in the pre-tournament press conference about his prospects of playing Nadal on a different surface, Goffin had revealed his masterplan would have been to test him and If nothing else it did serve to show and test out how that knee would perform, and in the early part of the match, certainly Goffin looked to be the aggressor. First blood went to the Belgian, with an early break, before the natural order of things was resumed as Nadal broke back.
Things would get a little more angsty with Goffin picking up a break to serve for the first set, only be broken straight back. Where his nerve counted though was in the tie-break, coming from a mini-break down to open up a 5-3 lead. There was the hint of another wobble, as Nadal levelled at 5-5 but Goffin broke for the set.
There were more twists to come. A highly competitive second set saw a trade of breaks late on, with Goffin presented with four match points in the normal passage of play, all of which were passed up by the Belgian. From the ensuing tie-break through, the tide turned with a distinctively Spanish wave, with Nadal building up an impressive margin to level the match.
It looked as thought the enormity of trying to beat the World No. 1 would be too overwhelming, but Goffin still had a few surprises, breaking Nadal early in the third set, as Nadal started to look just a little hobbled.
As Goffin lounged comfortably on a double-break cushion, Nadal simply stopped moving for points. Having successfully looked often to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Goffin stepped up once more with the match in his grasp.
Turns out fifth time is the charm as the Belgian recorded his first win over Nadal, but the inevitable questions were soon answered by Nadal. Goffin took nothing away from the 16-time Grand Slam champion, regardless of how he had struggled.
Goffin said: “I saw that he was struggling a little bit with his movement on the court, and his knee was suffering a little bit. It was tough even if he was not moving 100%. He was hitting the ball really hard.
“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. It is the best win of my career, but it was, yeah, a special one against Rafa who was not 100%.”
Earlier in the day, Grigor Dimitrov dazzled on his debut as he came out all guns blazing in a battle of the single-handed backhands. Dominic Thiem‘s over-ambitious schedule looked to have taken its toll with a sluggish start for the Austrian as Dimitrov looked to pile the pressure on early and was rewarded with the only break of the first set.
Thiem, by his own admission had been a bundle of nerve on his own debut last year, and looked to shake off the jitters in a competitive second set, fending off a solitary break point before breaking Dimitrov for the match.
In fact throughout the match, Dimitrov had looked the aggressor, again knocking at the door before breaking for a lead in the decider. Thiem had one more flurry of resistance before a final decisive break, taking the match a game later on his third match point.
Butterflies settled, Dimitrov means business as he described after the match: “I’ve never been out here. Now I can say that that barrier is broken, I guess. It for me was just one of those new experiences that I think I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, I think appreciate for the rest of my life. This is where I always wanted to be at, is among the top players. Also being able to come through in my first match, it’s only positive.”
Group Pete Sampras will return for the second round-robin stage on Wednesday with the day session starting at 12pm, and the night session at 6pm, all times GMT.
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