Rafael Nadal described some of his tennis as “incredible” on Friday after surviving a blip to continue his bid for a record-extending 12th French Open title with a third-round win over David Goffin, ten years to the day since his shock 2009 exit to Robin Soderling.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner bounced back after an excellent third set from Belgian 27th seed Goffin to win 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and take his astonishing Roland Garros win-loss record to 89-2 — those two defeats coming against Soderling in the last 16 a decade ago and against Novak Djokovic in 2015.
Nadal maintained his record of never having lost in the first week in Paris, although he withdrew injured before the third round in 2016.
He powered 38 winners past Goffin on Court Philippe Chatrier to set up a last-16 clash with either Argentinian Juan Ignacio Londero or home hope Corentin Moutet.
“The first set and a half was really fantastic, incredible. It’s difficult to play so well. I did everything perfectly. Serving. Almost all the time I was attacking,” said the defending champion.
“I was controlling the direction, the height of the ball, the width, the length of the ball. I was moving into the ball, and my opponent could not find any place to be.”
His third set blip was only the second set Nadal had dropped at the tournament since his 2015 quarter-final against Novak Djokovic.
Goffin has now lost all four of his clay court meetings with Nadal.
“It was not easy because he’s playing so far back,” said the 28-year-old Belgian.
“It looks like you have hit the ball too slow, you know, because he’s like a wall, five metres behind.
“And it looks like you serve 120 kph, and then it looks like you hit with a soft ball because it doesn’t go.
“He’s so fast and he’s behind and he’s playing so heavy. So it’s not easy to make a winner.”
Goffin looked totally outclassed in the first two sets, but claimed his first-ever set against Nadal on clay, and the first the Spaniard had dropped at Roland Garros since last year’s quarter-final win against Diego Schwartzman.
But Nadal refocused and clinched victory in the fourth set when Goffin fired a backhand wide after a single break of serve in game four.