Goffin, ranked 11 in the world, proved to be one of the few players who can handle Nadal’s heavy spin, which he did with aplomb on both the return of serve and in general baseline play, to claim a 6-4, 7-6(3) victory.
The tie will now be decided by a high-stakes doubles match, after Spain claimed the opening singles early in the evening when Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Kimmer Coppejans 6-1, 6-4.
The winners of the deciding doubles will play Australia in Saturday’s semi-final, while Serbia, led by world number two Novak Djokovic, take on Russia.
In the day session, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic battled through a stirring challenge from rising Canadian star Denis Shapovalov to propel his country into the semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) victory.
It was Djokovic’s fifth victory over the 20-year-old Canadian in as many clashes but by far the toughest, after Shapovalov controlled significant portions of the match played in Australia’s intense summer heat.
The victory, set up earlier by Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic’s upset win over Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2, means Serbia will play Russia in the semi-final, where Djokovic will face the in-form world number five Daniil Medvedev.
The vocal crowds appear to be playing a pivotal role in the latter stages of the team event, after lifting host nation Australia on Thursday and then Serbia on Friday. Djokovic said after the match he understood Shapovalov’s frustration as the noise level kept threatening to interrupt play.
“They were so loud, they were engaged, sometimes a little bit too much,” said Djokovic.
“It was a Davis Cup-like atmosphere,” he said, referring to the traditional men’s team tennis event to which the ATP Cup is being compared.
Djokovic lost the first set against the heavy-swinging Canadian and struggled very early in the second before momentum shifted abruptly.
After some late third-set drama, where the two exchanged breaks of serve, the match fittingly entered into a tiebreak.
Shapovalov looked the more likely to prevail – but the Serbian had a joker up his sleeve he has successfully deployed over the years in tense situations.
He simply refused to miss, daring his younger rival to find a way to hit seven winners and claim the tiebreak.
It was too much for the Canadian, and, after floating a ground stroke long, Djokovic raised his arms in victory.
Serbia join Australia and Russia in qualifying for the semi-finals.