The seventh seed overcame seeing four match points come and go in the second set, as Nadal saved them all on his racquet – 4-5, 30/40 and three consecutively from 0/40, 5-6 down.
The Belgian pressured the Spaniard’s serve, but the World No. 1 played aggressively each time, including at 15/40, 5-6, when he smacked a 93 mph crosscourt backhand winner.
In the third set, however, Goffin’s persistence paid off. Serving for the match, he hit an ace down the T, his 14th ace of the match.
“It’s the best win of my career, for sure, to beat Rafa. But, yeah, I saw that he was struggling a little bit with his movement on the court, and his knee was suffering a little bit,” Goffin said.
“It was tough even if he was not moving 100 per cent. He was hitting the ball really hard. It was not easy. It’s never easy to finish a match, to finish a set against him. Even if I lost four match points in the second, I had no regret. I kept going in the third.”
Goffin celebrated his first victory against a World No. 1 and the fifth Top 10 win of his season (5-9). More than half of his career wins against the elite group in the Emirates ATP Rankings (9-37) have come this season, his best on the ATP World Tour. Goffin qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time, and has now begun the season-ending championship with the best win of his career.
“I’m really happy that I found my level tonight. That’s a good match to start the competition. It gives me some confidence for the next one,” said Goffin, who played one match last year at The O2 after taking Gael Monfils‘ place during group play.
“I have to continue to play like that, to continue to play my game, to stay focused on what I have to do on the court. I think I was feeling the ball really well tonight. Now the next match will be tough. Every match is tough here,” Goffin said.
Nadal, however, has cut short his Nitto ATP Finals. The Spaniard has withdrawn from the season-ending championships due to a right knee injury, and his countryman Pablo Carreno Busta will take his place in Group Pete Sampras.
“My season is finished. I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play. But I am really not ready to play,” Nadal said.
Nadal was playing in his first match since withdrawing before the Rolex Paris Masters quarter-finals on 3 November. The Spaniard has won 75 tour-level titles, including 30 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns, but he has never won the Nitto ATP Finals. The Spaniard, who will finish as year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, finished runner-up at the season finale in 2010 and 2013.