Rafael Nadal said on Thursday he drew inspiration from Real Madrid’s heroic comeback against Manchester City less than 24 hours previously as he survived a scare from David Goffin, saving four match points en route to a tight 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (11⁄9) victory in the Madrid Open.
The win kept alive Nadal’s quest for a record-extending sixth title in the Spanish capital and earned him a spot in the quarter-finals, where he faces his compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.
Rafael Nadal is a lifelong Real Madrid fan
Seventh seed Alcaraz celebrated his 19th birthday with a battling 6-4, 6-7(4⁄7), 6-3 over British world number 11 Cameron Norrie.
On Wednesday, Real scored in extra time to stun City 3-1 to set up a Champions League final with Liverpool later this month.
Nadal, a 21-time major champion, was contesting just his second match after a six-week break due to a rib injury and rebounded from tricky moments during his showdown with Goffin, who has a career-high ranking of seventh but is currently down to 60 in the world.
Nadal had to recover from an early break before clinching a 46-minute opening set.
The Spanish third seed held two match points and served for the second set but was stretched to a third by Goffin.
In the deciding-set tie-break, Nadal saved four match points, hitting clutch drop shots on two of them, before he finally moved into a record-extending 99th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final and his 16th in Madrid.
“Yesterday has been an unforgettable night. The spirit that the Real Madrid team have is just incredible and for me today in some way has been an inspiration,” said the 35-year-old, who attended the game at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Nadal is 2-0 against Alcaraz, having defeated the teen phenom in Madrid last year and at Indian Wells in March.
“I think that today, he is better than me and he has a good dynamic, a good momentum,” Nadal said of Alcaraz, who is riding a seven-match winning streak that includes a title run in Barcelona.
“I’m clear who, from the beginning, has some kind of advantage in tomorrow’s match. But in that regard, I will try to do as much as possible to be competitive.”
Alcaraz said: “I dream of being the best, and I fight for it. And to be the best, you have to beat the best. I believe that I am ready for this challenge.”
Earlier, former world number one Andy Murray was forced to pull out of his last-16 match against Djokovic, citing food poisoning.
It would have been the 37th meeting between Murray and current world number one Djokovic, but the first since they played each other in the Doha final in January 2017.
Djokovic, a three-time champion in Madrid, now moves directly into a quarter-final against Polish 12th seed Hubert Hurkacz, who knocked out Serbian qualifier Dusan Lajovic 7-5, 6-3.
Sixth seed Andrey Rublev reached the seventh Masters 1000 quarter-final of his career with a 7-6 (9⁄7), 7-5 result against Dan Evans of Britain.
Rublev said it has been a “stressful” tournament for him so far, despite arriving to the Spanish capital fresh from a title run in Belgrade.
“I’m going on court thinking for sure today I’m going to do everything and I will be calm and then I’m doing really stupid and easy mistakes that make no sense,” said Rublev.
In the last eight, Rublev will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who downed Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 6-4.
Defending champion Alexander Zverev also punched his ticket to the quarter-finals after his opponent Lorenzo Musetti retired from their match in the second set with a left thigh injury.
– Jabeur into final –
In the women’s event, eighth seed Ons Jabeur advanced to the biggest final of her career, where she will face Jessica Pegula, with an impressive 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Ons Jabeur beat Ekaterina Alexandrova to reach her first WTA 1000 final in Madrid
The Tunisian followed up wins against Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and former world number one Simona Halep with just her second success in eight meetings with Alexandrova to move into a maiden WTA 1000 final.
“It was a very emotional match. For those who don’t know, I have a 1-6 record against her. So it was a tough match mentally,” said Jabeur.
American Pegula ended the run of Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory in the second semi-final.
It will be the 12th seed’s first final at this level and first in a singles tournament since losing to Serena Williams in Auckland in January 2020.