The big match of the day at the Mutua Madrid Open never came about as Andy Murray was forced to pull out of the third-round encounter with the top seeded Novak Djokovic with an illness likened to food poisoning, to the disappointment of all fans wanting to see the two test themselves against each other for the first time in four years. It would have been their 37th encounter.
A very important victory, saving match points. That’s confidence, that gives me the chance to keep going. I need matches and I need a day like to-day to be fitter sooner. Rafa Nadal
Also out are Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie but neither went quietly.
First up Evans gave the sixth seeded Andrey Rublev plenty of problems before the Muscovite finally eased through as expected, while Norrie, seeded 9, just didn’t have the power in his battle with Carlos Alcaraz despite taking a set off the fast-rising Spanish star celebrating his 19th birthday.
From the start it looked as if the youngster from Murcia had the British No.1’s measure much to the delight of the packed Manolo Santana crowd in the Caja Magica but Norrie battled back from a break down in the second set to force a decider.
However, the Spanish world number nine, who won Indian Wells earlier this year, saved six of the eight break points he faced to advance 6-4 6-7(4) 6-3.
Earlier Evans had broken his opponent in the first game of the match much to Rublev’s disgust and irritation, and then had a set point on his serve in the tie-break but failed to convert it.
In the second he recovered an early break but wasted two opportunities to go 5-3 ahead which proved crucial as he was broken at 5-5 allowing Rublev to progress 7-6(7) 7-5 after two-hours and 28-minutes.
Alcaraz now goes on to face his idol Rafa Nadal while Rublev takes on the resurgent Grigor Dimitrov for places in the semi-finals.
Prior to the youngster’s arrival on court, Nadal had delighted the crowds himself with a battling performance claiming he had been inspired by his favourite soccer team’s success the previous evening, namely Real Madrid’s very late victory over Manchester City.
Playing in only his second match in six-weeks thanks to an enforced rib injury lay-off, the Spanish icon showed signs of match-rustiness as David Goffin recovered from some blistering ground shots in the opening set to raise the possibility of an upset!
Nadal, a five-time champion of Madrid, had to save four match points having himself had the opportunity to claim the match in the second set when serving out at 5-4.
But the 31-year-old Belgian, a former world No.7, suddenly found the game which had taken him into the top ten to force a deciding set and then took that all the way to a deciding tie-break to the consternation of all present.
Even in the tie-break it was touch-and-go for the home team but Nadal produced two perfect drop shots to save two match points before finally closing it out 6-3 5-7 7-6(9) after over three hours of tense play.
“It was an unforgettable night,” said Nadal recollecting Real Madrid’s victory the previous evening.
“For me today, in some ways it has been an inspiration in the way I have been fighting all my tennis career” he then added.
“Honestly, it was a very tough match. I think I played at a very high level. But at the same time, I am not completely happy because I had to finish the match in straight sets, without a doubt.
“Three hours and 10 on court, that helps to increase my physical performance,” he continued after reaching his 16th Madrid quarter-final and his 99th at Masters level.
“A very important victory, saving match points. That’s confidence, that gives me the chance to keep going. I need matches and I need a day like to-day to be fitter sooner.”
He will certainly be tested by Alcaraz in their next match who said: “I lost twice against him and I wanted to play against him the third time.
“I think it’s going to be different from last year and the last match that we played. I’m excited to play against Rafa here in Madrid in front of the Spanish crowd. It’s going to be a great day and a great match.”
In other matches, Monte Carlo winner Stefanos Tsitsipas moved rolled past the in-form Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 6-4 and faces Andrey Rublev.
Defending champion Alexander Zverev got a retirement from Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti who was trailing 6-3 1-0 when a thigh injury forced the qualifier to throw in the towel.
Zverev will now take on Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime who knocked out Italy’s other hope, Jannik Sinner with a surprising 6-1 6-2 score-line. The Canadian is now being coached by Toni, the uncle who moulded Rafa Nadal!
“Me playing really well and him missing a few more balls than he should on top of that, I think it just created a big difference,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Djokovic, following his walk-over from Murray, will face Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz who topped Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 7-5 6-3.