‘Incredible’ Nadal survives ‘epic’ three-set marathon

Rafael Nadal saved four match points before outlasting David Goffin in three sets to reach the Madrid Open quarterfinals.

Nadal needed more than three hours to win 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (9) in only his second match after an injury layoff.

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Nadal’s 1,050th career victory came after Andy Murray withdrew from his match against Novak Djokovic because of a stomach illness.

The fourth-ranked Nadal had beaten the 32nd-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic in straight sets in his opening match at the clay-court tournament, his first after missing six weeks because of a rib stress fracture.

“I knew before I arrived that this was going to be a complicated week,” Nadal said. “Whatever happens now, to win two matches here is fantastic news for me.”

Nadal was up 5-3 in the second set before being broken twice and squandering a couple of match points to allow Goffin to even the match. He also struggled in the third and faced four match points in the tiebreaker. The first was saved with an ace, and Goffin hit the net on the second. On the next two, Nadal needed a couple of perfectly executed drop shots to stay in the match.

“It was an incredible end to the match, but it should have never gotten to that point. I had it under control at 5-3,” Nadal said. “But we know that things are not perfect for me right now, I have to accept that. I fought until the end, it’s what I can expect from myself now.”

The third-seeded Nadal will next face Carlos Alcaraz, who is celebrating his 19th birthday on Thursday.

Goffin’s best appearance in Madrid had been a quarter final appearance in 2017, when he also lost to Nadal. The former No. 7 hadn’t played in Madrid since 2019. He won his first title of the season in Morocco last month.

Nadal is the most successful player at the Madrid Open with five titles.

Murray, a two-time champion, announced he had to withdraw not long before he was scheduled to take the court against the top-ranked Djokovic in the third round.

It would have been the first time Murray and Djokovic played against each other since the Serb won the Doha final in 2017.

The 78th-ranked Murray had won his first two matches in Madrid, defeating Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov. The former No. 1 hadn’t won consecutive matches since January and hadn’t played in a clay-court tournament in nearly two years after undergoing hip surgery.

With Murray’s withdrawal, Djokovic automatically advanced to the quarterfinals — his second of the year after losing the Serbia final last month. He had lost in his first match in Monte Carlo in his first tournament on clay this season.

Djokovic’s opponent will be 12th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, who defeated qualifier Dusan Lajovic 7-5, 6-3.

Djokovic is also trying to regain his best form after not being allowed to play in the Australian Open because he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus. This is only his fourth tournament of the season.

Andrey Rublev, who beat Djokovic in the Serbia final, advanced to the quarterfinals after a hard-fought 7-6 (7), 7-5 win over Daniel Evans in nearly 2 1/2 hours.

Rublev will next face fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, who comfortably defeated Gregor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-4.

Defending champion Alexander Zverev advanced after qualifier Lorenzo Musetti retired with a left thigh injury while losing 6-3, 1-0.

In the women’s semi finals, eighth-seeded Ons Jabeur comfortably defeated qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2, 6-3 in just over an hour to advance to the final. The Tunisian is the first Arab player to reach a WTA 1000 final.

The 10th-ranked Jabeur, the only top-10 player left in the women’s draw, had lost five of her six matches against Alexandrova from 2016-2018.

It will be her sixth final, and first since a runner-up finish in Charleston last month.

“This match is going to be different (from the Charleston final),” Jabeur said. “I’m just going to really give my best. I don’t want to regret, saying like, ‘should I have done this, should I have done that…’”

She will face either 12th-seeded American Jessica Pegula or Jil Teichmann, who play later Thursday.

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