Nadal comes through thriller to beat Goffin; sets Spanish blockbuster with Alcaraz

Rio Ferdinand makes admission about Man United star

It was a red-letter day at the Caja Magica as the draws headed to the business end of the Mutua Madrid Open.

Top of the bill was the highly anticipated first meeting in five years between two men who had both won the Madrid Masters before, both been No1, both born in the very same week. Novak Djokovic against Andy Murray had become one of the great rivalries in tennis, up to 36 meetings since their first as teenagers in this very tournament—when it still played on indoor hard courts.

But the news broke early: Murray was ill and had to withdraw, leaving Djokovic to reach his 88th Masters quarter-final—breaking a tie with Federer in second place behind Rafael Nadal.

So the opening slot on Manolo Santana court was taken by another Briton, Dan Evans, one of three British men in the last 16 of a Masters for the first time. But Evans, who had played outstanding tennis to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, was up against it facing No6 seed Andrey Rublev. The Russian had three titles this year, including victory over No1 Djokovic in Belgrade last week.

It was a tough battle, led in the early games by Evans, but Rublev edged the opening tie-break, 7-6(7). Another exchange of breaks saw them edging towards a second tie-break, but Rublev raised the stakes to break for 6-5 and served out the win, his 25th of the year, 7-5.

So two Britons out, and one of five single-handers out. Rublev would play the winner between two more of them, No4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Grigor Dimitrov, who was one the six unseeded men to make the last 16.

Among them, unseeded one-hander Dusan Lajovic, who had scored big with a win over No5 seed Casper Ruud, lost out to Hubert Hurkacz, 7-5, 6-3, while another, Lorenzo Musetti did not even make it to the end of his match against the second seed, Alexander Zverev, retiring at 3-6, 0-1 down.

Zverev, a former champion in Madrid, would take on the winner between two of the generation 2000 club, 21-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime and 20-year-old Jannik Sinner. Seeded Nos8 and 10 respectively, this was the first meeting between the two young stars, and it turned into a trouncing by the Rotterdam champion Auger-Aliassime, 6-1, 6-2.

The last Briton in contention, Cam Norrie was still to play—and he would go into a Spanish bull-ring atmosphere when he took on the teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz to open the night session.

That it was the Spaniard Alcaraz’s 19th birthday too only made the occasion more ebullient for this record-making, super-athletic, bold and beaming young player.

Already he was the youngest ATP500 champion—he won both Rio and Barcelona this season—the youngest Miami Masters champion, and the youngest US Open men’s quarter-finalist in the Open era. And he had replaced Norrie in the top 10 a fortnight ago to become the youngest player to debut there since Nadal exactly 17 years earlier.

Not that Norrie lacked conviction and athleticism. His 2021 season was a cracker, with two titles from six finals, including the title at the Indian Wells Masters. A year ago, he was ranked 56, and by the end of the season, he was the reserve at the ATP Finals. He broke the top this April after winning Delray Beach and losing to Rafael Nadal in the final of Acapulco. And the winner between Norrie and Alcaraz would likely play Nadal in the Madrid quarter-finals.

There was, though, a fly in the ointment: Alcaraz had won both their previous meetings, both on hard courts, both without dropping a set, and most recently in Indian Wells in March. But this would be a far-from one-sided match. The Spaniard got the first break in the fourth game of the first set, but Norrie was not done, winning a marathon ninth game to break at the fourth attempt.

Yet Alcaraz, such an intense and mature player for his years, broke straight back for the set, 6-4, with a huge ‘Vamos!’

So he opened the serving in the second set, and they stayed on level terms until the fifth game. Norrie, living with the pace and geometry of the Spaniard’s attacking tennis, broke first, but it signalled more energy from Alcaraz to break back: 3-3.

Norrie’s serving had improved from the first set, but he would now have to serve to save the match, 4-5. He did so twice, and they went to a tie-break packed with quality points played to the extremes of the court, with pace, angle and precision. Norrie got the smallest of leads for the chance to serve it out, and did so, 7-6(4).

Alcaraz got a swift break in the decider, fended off break point to hold for 3-1, but Norrie would not yield and the Spaniard had to hold from 0-40 to maintain his lead. In the end, though, Alcaraz had all the shots, and the pressure on Norrie resulted in a double fault on match point, 6-3.

Some birthday present, then: First, an enormous cake on court, but next, a quarter-final showdown with Nadal, both men playing on home soil as fan favourites. Who will the Madrid faithful support? Tune in tomorrow afternoon to find out.

For Nadal had escaped the unseeded David Goffin by the skin of his teeth in a thriller of a three-hour, three-setter.

The Belgian, a former world No7, was working his way back after more than his share of injury setbacks. Currently ranked 74, he had to play qualifying even to make the main draw, and showed all his prodigious speed, footwork and tactical smarts against two tough opponents to reach this Nadal test. He had also won the Marrakech title just a week ago.

It looked for all the world as though Nadal, also quickly back in harness after suffering a rib facture at Indian Wells, would cruise to a win in straights, 6-3 and a break up, but he failed to convert two match points, Goffin turned the tables to win the second set, 7-5, and they battled through the third to the ultimate showdown, a final-set tie-break.

Nadal went 4-1 up, but Goffin continued to hit some stunning forehand winners for five straight points and two match-points. In a cauldron of an atmosphere, Nadal saved the first with an ace, and Goffin lined up another winning forehand, only to find the net, 6-6.

The fans were at fever pitch in support of their man, and saw him save another match point with a drop-shot winner, and his own forehand winner brought up match-point, more than an hour after his previous two.

They changed ends, locked at 9-9, after Nadal saved a fourth match point, and he seized the last two points, 7-6(9), to a standing ovation.

So from five single-handers, only one, Tsitsipas, remains. From six unseeded men, none remains. And of the four men born in the 2000s, only Alcaraz and Auger-Aliassime remain.

In fact, when push comes to shove, the rankings held up very well, with only Ruud of the top eight failing to take his allotted place in the quarters.



Author: Ellen Garcia