ATP Monte Carlo semifinal preview: Rafael Nadal vs David Goffin

Defending Monte Carlo Rolex Masters champion Rafael Nadal's quest for a tenth title in Monte Carlo looks increasingly likely, however, he has a tricky semifinal encounter with 10th seed David Goffin to negotiate with a place in Sunday's final on the line.

ATP Monte Carlo semifinal preview: Rafael Nadal vs David Goffin
Nadal and Goffin will meet for the first time in their careers (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Day Six of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters was men's quarterfinal singles day. The four matches didn't fail to disappoint the crowd with Albert Ramos Viñolas, Lucas Pouille and the biggest shock of the day with David Goffin upsetting two-time former champion Novak Djokovic, with all three players producing stunning comebacks by recovering from breaks down in the final set. Meanwhile, the defending champion Rafael Nadal edged past Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals to reach his fourth semifinal of a rejuvenated season. Nadal and Goffin will do battle in the semifinals for the first time in their career, and it should be an exciting semifinal for the fans to watch on Day Seven of the first European clay court season of the year.

Goffin's route to the semifinals

The world number 13 cruised past his Davis Cup teammate Steve Darcis, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the second round. In the second round, Goffin was up against four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Nicolas Almagro. The Spaniard is an experienced clay court campaigner, and he led 4-1 against Goffin, however, he was unable to sustain his level of play with the 10th seed eventually coming back to win the match in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1. The two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist's third round encounter was with sixth seed Dominic Thiem. The duo met for the ninth time with Goffin leading 5-3 in their rivalry. Once again, it was a tough battle for Goffin who defeated Thiem at the Australian Open in January. This time their third round match lasted over two hours with Goffin defeating Thiem, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 securing his passage in his first Monte Carlo Rolex Masters quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, Goffin had to play against two-time champion Novak Djokovic. The 10th seed had never beaten Djokovic in their previous five encounters, only winning one set in their meetings. However, the 26-year-old was playing scintillating to take the opening set, and the second seed seemingly looked to have taken control in this match by winning the second set with ease, and led by a break in the final set. Nonetheless, Goffin held his nerve and on his fifth match point chance he defeated Djokovic for the first time, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in 2 hours and 37 minutes to reach his third Masters 1000 semifinal in his career.

The 10th seed has a tough test with Nadal to reach the biggest final of his career (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
The 10th seed has a tough test with Nadal to reach the biggest final of his career (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Nadal's route to the semifinals

The nine-time champion is chasing "La Decima" at the Monte Carlo Country Club, and the fourth seed is the highest remaining seed left in the draw. 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray both fell in the third round, and Goffin halted any chance of a Nadal-Djokovic semifinal. The former world number one had a bye in the first round and it seemed that he would cruise to a straights sets victory over Britain's Kyle Edmund, however, the Brit fought back and it was a three set thriller which the Spaniard won, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3. In the third round, Nadal had been taken the distance against 14th seed Alexander Zverev in their Indian Wells meeting last year and Australian Open encounter this year, however, it was a different story this time as Nadal thrashed the German on his birthday in a mere 69 minutes, 6-1, 6-1 advancing to his 13th quarterfinal in Monte Carlo. In the quarterfinals, the fourth seed continued his title defense under the floodlights against Argentina's Diego Schwartzman and on paper, it was the easiest match of the day as the 14-time Grand Slam champion defeated Schwartzman, 6-4, 6-4, who was competing in his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal. Nadal's victory means that he will be participating in his 62nd Masters 1000 semifinal against Goffin.

The nine-time champion is the firm favourite to win a 10th title in Monte Carlo (Photo by Valery Hache / Getty Images)
The nine-time champion is the firm favourite to win a 10th title in Monte Carlo (Photo by Valery Hache / Getty Images)

Who advances to Sunday's final?

This will be Goffin's third appearance in a Masters 1000 semifinal after losing to Milos Raonic at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and to Djokovic in Miami, both of those losses coming last year. The Belgian will re-enter the top 10 after his fine efforts this week in Monte Carlo. Goffin hasn't won a title on tour since 2014 after winning two titles in Kitzbuhel and Metz on clay and indoor hard courts respectively. The 13th ranked player is on a barren spell after losing six consecutive finals, including a loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Rotterdam back in February despite winning the opening set. Goffin has been playing sublime tennis in Monte Carlo throughout the week, and he has the ability to pose some problems for Nadal. Clay is the Belgian's best surface as he made his breakthrough on this surface as a lucky loser at the French Open in 2012 going all the way to the fourth round eventually losing to Roger Federer in four sets. It wouldn't be for another year and a half until Goffin would be able to back up those results and perform well on a consistent basis.

The former world number one will be ecstatic with his level of tennis in 2017, following two injury-plagued campaigns in 2015 and 2016, where his confidence had dropped and injuries intervened. The 30-year-old failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal last year for the first time since 2004. However, Nadal's compatriot and former French Open champion Carlos Moya has joined his coaching team, and the relationship has been successful so far. The 14-time Grand Slam champion has reached three finals in 2017 losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open and Miami Open finals, and Sam Querrey upset the Spaniard in the final in Acapulco.

Nevertheless, in this semifinal match with Goffin, Nadal will need to serve well and his forehand will need to be firing on all cylinders. The Spaniard is the fresher out of the two players and his movement has been superb this week. Goffin's movement hasn't been too bad either, and both players will be buoyed by confidence, heading into in their semifinal encounter.  The fourth seed cannot afford to leave any balls short in the court as Goffin has the ability to step into the court and punish them. However, Nadal should make the final in Monte Carlo once more with the 10th seed, having a physically and mentally draining contest with Djokovic.

This will be the third match scheduled on Court Rainier III at not before 3:30pm local time, and the winner of this match will face 11th seed Lucas Pouille or Nadal's compatriot and 15th seed Albert Ramos Viñolas in Sunday's final. The tournament has been full of upsets, and potentially, there could be space for one more upset if Goffin can find a way to beat "The King of Clay".

Prediction: Nadal in three sets

Tennis