RAFA NADAL remains on course for a 12th French Open crown – on the 10-year anniversary of his worst defeat on Paris red clay.
The reigning champion was made to work over the course of three hours as he beat Belgian David Goffin 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 in the third round at Roland Garros.
Goffin won the third set in front of a shocked Court Philippe Chatrier, meaning Nadal dropped just his 26th set in 15 successive years of tennis here in Paris. It also means the Spaniard is the first of the top three players to drop a set during this week’s tournament.
Nonetheless, Nadal and Federer have both booked their spots in the Last 16 for the 14th times in their careers.
This sees them move ahead of Budge Patty (1946-58) at the top of the all-time list for most appearances at this stage of the men’s singles draw.
Nadal, 32, is the undisputed King of Clay and if he lifts the trophy one more time, it would surpass the 11 Australian Open singles titles won by Margaret Court in Melbourne.
Yet Nadal would certainly have acknowledged the symbolism of today’s date – May 31.
It was on this day exactly a decade ago when he was unexpectedly defeated in the fourth round by Swede Robin Soderling.
The result was one of the biggest upsets in tennis history and it probably still gives Nadal nightmares and the cold sweats all these years later.
It represented Nadal’s first defeat in 32 matches in this slam and until 2016, when he lost in the third round, it was the worst he had performed on clay here.
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The fact Nadal won the next FIVE French Opens after that loss showed how extraordinarily a display it was and how exceptional Soderling had performed.
Soderling’s fairy-tale run continued that year all the way to the final where he was beaten by Federer, who won his one and only French Open. The year later Nadal gained revenge in the showpiece occasion
The No.2 seed will now face either Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Londero or Frenchman Corentin Moutet.
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Robin Soderling, Nadal’s conqueror in 2009, reached two Slam finals but lost them both