What we learned: No deja vu for Rafa

 - Dan Imhoff

There would be no repeat of Nadal’s defeat to Soderling on this day 10 years ago.

Rafael Nadal Roland Garros 2019 third round©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Forget the David and Goliath narrative or any chance of the script repeating on the 10th anniversary of his most surprising Grand Slam defeat, Rafael Nadal was having none of it on Friday.

The 11-time Roland-Garros champion weathered a blistering fourth set from Belgian 26th seed David Goffin to book his 14th fourth round appearance in Paris in 15 years.

Here's what we learned from the pair’s fifth meeting, which Nadal claimed 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

No bad omens on 10-year anniversary

It was on this date a decade ago that Nadal suffered his first defeat at Roland-Garros to Robin Soderling in the fourth round.

The magnitude of one of the greatest upsets in Roland-Garros history has only become more extraordinary considering Nadal has fallen just once since on the clay in Paris – to Novak Djokovic in 2015.

After the first set of his fifth encounter with Goffin on Friday, there never appeared to be any doubt Nadal would avoid the same fate 10 years on.

Only when the Belgian snatched the third set with some inspired go-for-broke shot-making was the 11-time champion seriously tested. But the Spaniard quickly snuffed out any chance of a comeback as the early evening shadows completely enveloped Court Philippe-Chatrier, breaking in the fourth game of the set to carry the advantage to the finish line.

Nadal up to task

Two German qualifiers sharing the first name Yannick (Hanffman and Maden) did little to trouble Nadal in the opening two rounds, salvaging just 13 games collectively. Goffin, too, had cruised into the last 32, conceding the same miserly number of games.

Where Nadal’s opponents – ranked No.180 and No.114 respectively – made minimal inroads in the opening rounds, the lithe former world No.7, Goffin, found more success as the match wore on.

With a clever mixture of all-out aggression and drop-shot tactics, the Belgian lifted and the crowd duly responded.

But he could not sustain his level as Nadal’s seven unforced errors in the fourth set were only half the Belgian’s.

The No.2 seed’s ratio of 38 winners to 21 unforced errors was more measured compared to his 43 to 23 over three sets against qualifier Maden in the prior round. However, Goffin was a step up in standard and for the Spaniard to have won 43 points to his opponent’s 24 on the return of serve spoke volumes.

‘Almost the highest level I can play’

Nadal had momentarily eased his foot off the pedal in the latter stages of his previous match against Maden to drop serve twice late in the third set.

The self-lapse in concentration was a byproduct of doing things a little too easy early on. But the Spaniard was quick to point out losing a set to Goffin was not a matter of drifting focus but of the difficulty in sustaining his early peak level.

“You need to be realistic,” Nadal said. “The level that I kept during the first 45 minutes, you can't really maintain that easily. It’s very difficult, because it was almost the top level, the highest level I could play.

“Afterwards, when you play at that tennis level, each time you decrease your level, it seems that things crumble in some way. It’s strange. But then today I played against an excellent player. So the match of today is very positive.”

Setting the record straight

This was only the second set Nadal had dropped at Roland-Garros since 2015, with Diego Schwartzman the only other man to pinch one, doing so in the quarter-finals last year. Schwartzman’s Argentine compatriot, Juan Ignacio Londero, is Nadal’s next opponent. The world No.78 ended the charge of 20-year-old Frenchman Corentin Moutet in five sets and became the first player since Goffin to reach a Grand Slam fourth round on debut. That’s something not even his vastly more decorated fourth-round opponent can boast, although he did win Roland-Garros on debut 14 years ago. “Well, he plays very well right now,” Nadal said. “I think it's going to be a very difficult match, demanding, but I'm prepared to fight at a very high level.”