The unthinkable happened in Sydney during Friday’s night session when Spain faced Belgium in the last of the ATP Cup quarterfinal ties.
Playing against David in the singles was a very difficult thing. But we are super happy to be in the semi-finals Rafa Nadal
Roberto Bautista Agut having given Spain the 1-0 lead they had hoped for with his comfortable latest straight set wins, a 6-1 6-4 victory over Kimmer Coppejans, a late replacement for the 35-year-old Belgium playing captain Steve Darcis, the team were set for a 2-0 lead with the world number one, Rafa Nadal – their banker point for many a year – taking to the court for the second rubber.
Nadal hadn’t lost a match while representing his nation in a team competition, since 2004. Surely the 33-year-old would continue his run having led his team to glory in the Davis Cup Finals last November in Madrid?
It was unthinkable but David Goffin, the world number 11 did just that and in the process caused the biggest upset of the event.
The Belgium No.1 attacked at every opportunity from the opening moments and in the process limited Nadal’s options who, unlike Gofin was used to the Sydney court having played there all week, was still acclimatising himself from Perth to the new conditions and speed of the court.
Nadal, who has a tendency to sweat profusely during matches, found the humid conditions on this occasion more uncomfortable than normal, and frequently went back to the player zone for sawdust in an attempt to keep his hands dry to retain a firm grip on his racket.
Goffin broke in the fifth game on a rare double-fault from the Spaniard only for Nadal to recover immediately. The Spaniard then failed to convert any of the five break points he held in the eighth game.
Goffin held four break points in the next game and eventually converted to give him the chance of serving for the set which he took after 60-minutes of tense play.
The second set lasted 82 minutes and contained two service breaks, with Goffin under intense pressure serving second to stay in the set.
Just as Nadal appeared to be getting on top, though, Goffin rallied and dominated the tiebreaker when at 5-2, he double faulted t give Goffin four match points which he then clinched with an ace on the second 6-4 7-6(3) after two-hours and 23-minutes.
“I played a very good tiebreak at the end, I am happy for Belgium,” Goffin said on-court after the game.
The heat which had obviously affected Nadal, had also caused problems for Goffin who at one point, had to change his shoes due to the amount he was sweating during the game.
“The hand on the grip was not easy, but you just have to fight in those conditions,” Goffin commented and then reflected on how he had managed the upset.
“I felt my tennis the other match against Grigor [Dimitrov]…the confidence came back and I was ready for the fight tonight,” Goffin said on court.
“From the first point until the end it was not easy, I was up a set and a break and I had to hold my nerves until the end. I played a very good tie-break, some tough games towards the end of the second to hold my serve but at the end I’m so happy for Belgium to have a decisive doubles.
“I knew Rafa had to take the ball a little bit early, maybe to take some more risks because I was in the court trying to dictate all the time and he had to find a solution. He finds a solution most of the time, so I had to stick to my line and continue to move forward.”
Nadal returned too the court to partner Pablo Carreno Busta for the now crucial and decisive doubles which would decide which team progresses into the semi-finals.
In view of the rewards it proved a very tough contest and it took two hours for the Spaniards to finally fulfil their status as favourites by defeating Sander Gille and Jordan Vliegen 6-7(7) 7-5 10-7.
“Coming from Perth we didn’t have a lot of time to adapt and today the conditions were very heavy with humidity. Playing against David in the singles was a very difficult thing. But we are super happy to be in the semi-finals,” Nadal said following their 2-1 victory and setting up a last four clash with Australia.
“We’re excited to play a very tough one against Australia. We will give our best like we have done all through our careers.”
That will take place on Saturday evening.