Rafa Nadal’s preparations for the French Open where he hopes to improve on his record of 13 titles and 20 at grand slam level, suffered a serious setback when for the second time this season, the Spanish icon fell at the quarter-final stage of a Masters 1000 event.
To beat Rafa on a clay court in Spain, you have to play your best, I’m extremely happy to have done that. Yeah, we’ll see what the next few matches hold for me Alexander Zverev
At Monte Carlo, it was Andrey Rublev who did the deed but in Madrid, where he was the favourite to win his sixth title, Alexander Zverev came up with a successful game plan against the King of Clay.
It was their eighth meeting with the German trailing 5-2 but he had the psychological advantage of having won their last two matches, albeit both indoors.
He also admitted it would be more difficult to win his third straight match when it came to clay, Nadal’s favourite surface, and in front of his home fans but he did it and as the 6-4 6-4 score shows, it was a comfortable victory once he turned round his opponent’s excellent start.
AS expected, Nadal cruised into a 4-2 lead but then Zverev raised his game and started to dictate the points and win the rallies, ending the match with 28 winners to his name.
“To beat Rafa on a clay court in Spain, you have to play your best,” a very satisfied Zverev said later. “I’m extremely happy to have done that. Yeah, we’ll see what the next few matches hold for me.”
Nadal in contrast, wasn’t very happy with himself, especially at losing a 4-2 lead.
“I had the match under control at the beginning, playing well for six games, probably playing better than him,” Nadal said.
“Then in the 4-2 serving for 5-2, I did a disaster. Another bad game with my game with 30-0. Of course, playing against one of the best players of the world, under this circumstances, with this speed of the court, is very difficult to still confident.
“But is true that the serve was difficult to control today. Yeah, well done for him.”
Nadal admitted that the loss was a ‘step back’ as far as he was concerned.
“I took steps forward, but when you go up a staircase, there are times when it happens that you take a step back, that’s what happened today,” said the five-time Madrid champion.
“It’s a week where there were a lot of positive things. I’m leaving Madrid with good feelings in general, and the bad one having played a match like today.
“Now, what is the goal before Roland Garros? Go to Rome (for next week’s Italian Open) and win, that’s all.”
Meanwhile his conqueror, Zverev, will have the opportunity of adding a second Madrid title to his career record but he will first have to get past Dominic Thiem who will be his semi-final opponent in what will be a rematch of the US Open final won by the Austrian.
Thiem beat John Isner of the US, 3-6 6-3 6-4 after recovering from being a set down and staving off break points in the second.
“I think we all know that he is one of the best servers in history and the altitude here in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve,” Thiem said.
“I was a little bit surprised by his return games. I think he actually attacked both of my serves, the first and the second, and it took me a while to get used to it. If you start a break down against guys like John, it is like starting a set down. I think the momentum of the whole match changed when I saved those four break points in the second.”
Later, in the evening matches in the bottom half of the draw, Casper Ruud kept his great clay run going scoring a 7-5 6-1 win over Alexander Bublik.
The Norwegian Ruud, who stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round, moves into his third Masters clay semi-final and hopes to make his first Masters final on Saturday.
“It will obviously mean a lot. This is the third time now. I hope that’s the lucky charm, like we say,” the 22-year-old Ruud said.
Ruud, who still has to drop serve this week, will face Matteo Berrettini, the Italian who has improved his recent win streak to seven with his victory over Chile’s Cristian Garin, 5-7 6-3 6-0.
The unseeded Ruud leads the 8th seed Berrettini 2-1 with both his victories coming on clay leading the Italian to declare: “I think he’s a great, great player, especially on clay. He’s been playing really good, really solid so far this season. We always had, like, tough matches.
“Last year in Rome was really tricky match. Still if I think about it, it hurts. I’m really looking forward to get my revenge, not in a bad way, but just in a way that’s in a sports way.
“Now I’m happy for my win. Tomorrow I’m going to think about Casper. But, I mean, I’m really happy to play in semis against him.”