Rafael Nadal withdraws from ATP Finals after punishing defeat by David GoffinRafael Nadal the world No1, said he hopes to be fit in time for the Australian Open in January after ending his 2017 season by pulling out of the ATP Tour finals.
Rafael Nadal, who surprised even himself by ending the season No1 in the world, finished it down and out in Paris and London, calling it quits for 2017 on Monday night after losing against David Goffin in his first match of the ATP World Tour Finals.
His wounded knee gave up on him after two matches in Bercy last week and on the banks of the Thames it collapsed again under his vigorous hitting, as Goffin cashed in after blowing four match points to win 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 in two hours and 36 minutes. This end-of-season title is the only significant bauble in the game to elude Nadal and, at 31, he might go through his trophy-heavy career regarding it as his personal hell. “I am off,” he said matter-of-factly.
“My season is finished. I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. It is about the pain. I cannot hold with enough power to keep playing. It was a miracle to be even close to the score.”
The clay-courter supreme has invariably travelled here in trepidation, having withdrawn five times in 13 visits, losing twice in finals, and again the Spaniard’s suspicions about the rigours of the indoor hardcourt were confirmed. As for the future and his prospects of making it to the line for the Australian Open in January, Nadal said: “I know what I have to do. I know the periods of time that I need to work. If the treatment works or not, we will see. The good thing is it is nothing new. Everybody on my team has the right experience [to deal with the injury]. We hope to manage it, to have the right rest, the right work, and to try to be ready for the beginning of the next season.”
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He did well to avoid going 1-5 down in the third, but there was only so much fight he could offer. His compatriot Pablo Carreño Busta is waiting in the wings as the first alternate.
Goffin was by turn heroic and profligate, as was the Spaniard – but it was the Belgian who held it together for the best result of his career. “It was a tough fight,” Goffin said. “Rafa is such a big fighter, one of the strongest players mentally on the tour. To do it here was really special. I’m looking forward to coming back in two days. After the second set, after losing four match points, I don’t know. I just wanted to keep going in the third, enjoy every point to the end. It’s not over yet.”
After Nadal clawed his way back from an early break to parity in the 10th game of the first set, expectation strangled Goffin’s work. A double fault tipped him into a tie-break. Nadal, after a string of loose groundstrokes, served at 5-6 to stay in the set – but he dumped a backhand and Goffin breathed easily.
It was a disjointed affair, dramatically at odds with the fluid tennis that had preceded it, when Grigor Dimitrov beat Dominic Thiem 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 in two of the best sets of the long season. Little flowed smoothly in the night match. After an hour, Goffin was bossing it, with 10 aces making up nearly half of his 21 winners, while Nadal was curiously passive, guarding his injured knee.
Nadal had won more than a hundred matches in his career from a set down, and eight of 14 this season but his timing was off and the keen golfer was hooking routine backhands into the rough with worrying regularity. When Goffin smacked a startling forehand across Nadal’s static bow to go 5-3 up in the second, the match was his to lose. Stepping up to serve for the upset, he could not have been more imbued with confidence.
The Belgian has blown leads before this season, but there was little he could do about the sizzling backhand winner that left him stranded at 30-30. Nor was he in the right place to handle the down-the-line winner that gave Nadal another look. But a sloppy double fault was his own doing and Nadal was back in the match.
Goffin did brilliantly to fashion a match point – and woefully to squander it, before Nadal tigerishly got to a second tie-break, this time wrapping it up without fuss.
In the third, Nadal’s miseries multiplied. His movement stiffened, and this time Goffin stayed strong as his struggling prey grew weaker in the fight.
Earlier, Dimitrov and Thiem lit up the royal blue arena on the second day with classicism from another era. Alongside Nadal and Federer, they are the only players in the top 20 with single-handed backhands – and how they let them flow. It was Dimitrov’s that whirred most like a scimitar under the TV lights, though, bringing him nine clean winners in two hours and 19 minutes on his way to subduing the gifted Austrian.
The first Bulgarian to make the eight-player finals, Dimitrov said courtside: “I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous in my first match. Great conditions, but you come in and you feel the weight on your shoulders. It’s never easy to play for the first time. Entering this tournament was a dream, not just to compete, but to win. Things seem to be going the right way so far. You fail and you get back up again. There were a few close calls. On to the next one.”
In the afternoon, Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares regretted missed opportunities against the American Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, who survived two concerted fightbacks to win 7-5, 6-7 (3), 10-8.