Madrid | Nadal says goodbye; Alcaraz and Sinner remain on course

Rafa Nadal bidding farewell to his beloved home fans, was always going to be an emotional affair and so it proved on Tuesday when he was beaten by Jiri Lehecka in straight sets in the last 16 of the Madrid Masters.

You have given me a gift for the last 21 years that’s more significant than any Grand Slam I have won. The emotions of playing in Madrid, in front of the Spanish fans, is something that will stay with me forever Rafa Nadal

They supported him noisily during the match fully aware from previous comments he has made, that his run in Madrid would more than likely be his last appearance there as a professional player on the tour.

In the electric atmosphere the 22-year-old Czech managed to concentrate throughout the match to deliver that moment and eliminate the 37-year-old Spanish icon from the Manolo Santana arena in the Caja Magica, 7-5 6-4.

Banners of Rafael Nadal previous Madrid wins are unfurled

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

At which point the stadium exploded with giant banners featuring his five individual previous victories in the Spanish capital, unfurling from the roof and the on court electric advertising boards carrying a thank you Rafa message!

“It’s been a very special week for me, very positive in many ways, both personally and for my tennis,” Nadal said on court. “I had the chance to play again on court. A few weeks ago, two days before Barcelona, I didn’t know if I would compete in an official match again and I’ve now played two weeks. It’s been unforgettable.

“The only thing I can say is ‘thank you’. It’s been an incredible journey that started when I was little. I came to Madrid for the first time in 2003, when the tournament was played indoors. The first time I came here feeling competitive was in 2005. It was one of the most exciting wins of my career, still indoors. Ever since, the support has been unconditional from everyone. I cannot thank you enough.”

“Looking at the pictures [on the banners], some of them seem like they were a lifetime ago,” said the Spaniard who spent 209 weeks at No.1 in the world rankings during his career. “All I can do is thank everyone who has helped me in my career. Even though it’s not over, this is the last time I’ll be in Madrid. You have given me a gift for the last 21 years that’s more significant than any Grand Slam I have won. The emotions of playing in Madrid, in front of the Spanish fans, is something that will stay with me forever.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a hobby as my job, and to do it exceptionally well. I feel so lucky to have had all these experiences. I couldn’t ask for more. I hope I’ve set a positive example for the new generations. That’s the most important thing. Titles and sporting moments are exciting.”

As regards the match, Nadal just couldn’t find an answer to Lehecka’s solid game and though he had his chances in the eighth game of the opening set, it was the Czech who made the break through to go 6-5 up, and with that, go on to mop up the opener.

Lehecka then proceeded to serve out to love to take the first set and following a comfort break for Nadal, the Czech broke him in the first game.

Nadal’s frustrations became apparent, especially when he argued with the umpire over a Hawkeye decision in favour of his opponent in the second game.

With the world no.31 dominating play, especially long baseline rallies, the 22-time Grand Slam champion was unable to prevent his young challenger from earning his victory.

For Nadal his outing in Madrid is the best sequence of matches he has had this season which has been disrupted by interminable injuries.

Madrid was only his third tournament of the year with just three wins to his credit prior to his arrival in the Spanish capital where he has doubled his tally with victories over Darwin Blanch, Alex de Minaur and Pedro Cachin.

Carlos Alcaraz releases all his emotions after a very tight contest

(Photo by Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

Earlier in the day his young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the two-time defending champion, survived a battle with Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in what was a repeat of last year’s final.

And like 12 months ago the outcome was resolved over three sets with the 20-year-old from Murcia squeezing through in just under three hours of play, 6-3 6-7(5) 7-6(4) to make the quarter finals.

Alcaraz had admitted before the match that his 33-year-old opponent, fresh from winning the Munich title, the first of his career, that he was going to be a tough nut to crack.

And so it proved. The German’s tenacity was evident after Alcaraz had taken the opening set relatively comfortably.

Aggressive, powerful play from Struff saw him take three games on the bounce and, after losing just two points on serve in four games, he forced Alcaraz to serve to stay in the set.

He did hold for 5-5 and two nervous service games followed before the match entered the tie break.

There Alcaraz took the early points but Struff responded with five consecutive points to set up three set points and on his third, he achieved his goal of a deciding set.

Alcaraz replied by taking a 3-1 lead in that deciding set but again Struff was not to be denied as he snuffed out four match points to force another tie break.

Again Alcaraz took a 3-0 lead only for Struff to bounce back but on this occasion the Spaniard kept his nerve to progress into the last eight where he will face Andrey Rublev, a 6-4 6-2 winner over Tallon Griekspoor.

After the match, Alcaraz said: “It was difficult with me to deal with my emotions, handle certain moments, difficult moments in the match.
“I kept fighting, that’s all that matters.”

Speaking about his home advantage, Alcaraz said: “Well I think I have to say thanks to the people here who are supporting me until the last point.

“It was a great support after those difficult moments I had at the end of the third set. They push me up to not give up and keep fighting.”

Jannik Sinner has to decide whether to continue playing

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Meanwhile Jannik Sinner, the Australian Open champion and top seed, had to come from a set down to get past the challenge of Karen Khachanov and then revealed that an ongoing hip injury could stop him playing the next round.

The Italian picked up the injury in the previous round when playing Pavel Kotov and his match with the Russia’s Khachanov proved extremely testing but he did prevail 5-7 6-3 6-3 after two-hours, 10-minutes.

“My physio and I did a lot of work yesterday, it was a long night, but that’s what my body says.

“I don’t want to say what time I went to sleep, but you need more treatment and more sleep.

“There are players who find it hard to sleep because they still have adrenaline, that’s not my case, but you do a lot of work after the game. It was a long night and in the morning there is also work to do.

“The important thing is not to wake up worse. Tomorrow I will decide if I can play, I don’t know yet,” he said.

Provieded he is fit, he will face a revitalised Canadian, Felix Auger Aliassime who defeated Norway’s Casper Ruud, the Barcelona champion, 6-4 7-5.

Also through to the quarters are Daniil Medvedev who overcame Alexander Bublik 7-6(3) 6-4 to face Lehecka, plus Taylor Fritz against Francisco Cerundolo. The American beat Hubert HUrkacz 7-6(2) 6-4 and the Argentine took out Alexander Zverev 63 6-4.



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