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Rafael Nadal Owns The Dirt And Anyone Standing On It

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Watch this guy here, the blond guy playing frantic, brilliant tennis, tracking down a lob for a whirling dervish winner.


Rafael Nadal beat that dude, in straight sets—broke him twice in the second, too. David Goffin fought well, especially in the 4-2 game that both players stuffed with nonstop highlight-reel material, but it wasn’t good enough to fend off a 7-6 (3), 6-2 defeat in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open. At time of writing, it appears that no one on tour is good enough, for long enough, to beat the king of clay in his domain.

If you want to understand why, just watch the points right after Goffin’s masterpiece. It’s extremely difficult to hit the ball past this purple wall. You can draw him to the net, but he’s been answering drop shots with even better drop shots all week, and his reflex volleys are on point. You can stretch him out wide, so wide that by the time he gets to it, the ball is just a few inches from going dead, but Rafa will still scrape it up with one of his patented banana forehands. Banana because of the arc it cuts through the air: initially the ball looks like it’s headed for the doubles alley, but because it was struck with so much side spin, it starts gently curving rightward, right back into play. He can hit on the run, while sliding, while hurtling into the stands. He hit two of them for winners in this 4-2 game alone, and here’s one:

Before Goffin, there was Nick Kyrgios. Despite the match’s marquee billing, Nadal made a quick 6-3, 6-1 meal of the Australian, who seemed emotionally disengaged (he’s taken the last few weeks off tour to mourn his grandfather) and physically hampered (he frequently clutched his hip, which has been nagging him on and off for over a year). Kyrgios had his usual moments—the 107 mph forehand winner, the leaping feinted drop shot—but mostly he receded into the clay as Rafa stomped all over it. And before Kyrgios, there was that occasional Nadal headache, Fabio Fognini, who outplayed Nadal for most of the first two sets before going down in the third, because Rafa outlasts everyone.

Awaiting the Spaniard in the semifinal is Novak Djokovic, who advanced after a classic Kei Nishikori withdrawal, and now has the unpleasant task of keeping Nadal from his third-straight clay-court final.

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