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'Emotional' Nadal knocked out of Madrid Open by Lehecka

By AFP

May 1, 2024 09:35 AM


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Rafael Nadal bade an emotional farewell to the Madrid Open on Tuesday after crashing out in the last 16 to Jiri Lehecka in the Spanish star's last ever appearance at the tournament.

The 37-year-old 22-time Grand Slam singles champion -- winner of a record five Madrid Open titles -- bowed out 7-5, 6-4 to the 30th-seeded Czech Lehecka.

"I'm happy. It was a very special week for me, very positive and very emotional. I had the opportunity to play one more time here on this court," Nadal said in his on court interview.

Nadal hasn't decided when he plans to hang up his racquet this season but the former world number one's retirement is fast approaching.

Numerous physical issues have hampered him over the past two years and he will make the call on whether he will compete at Roland Garros later this month.

A special ceremony was held on Manolo Santana Stadium after Tuesday's match, with banners suspended above the stands with the words "Gracias Rafa" and signifying the years in which he has won the Madrid tournament.

"This was a joke, because I'll be back next year," quipped Nadal, his family watching on from the stands. "All I can say is thank you to everyone that has helped me in my career. It hasn't finished yet.

"It has been a gift what you've given me here. The emotion that I get from this experience in Madrid, from the Spanish public ... I was lucky as a kid to do the job that I love. I feel super fortunate to have lived the life that I've lived. I couldn't ask for anything more.”

Lehecka, through to the second Masters 1000 quarter-final of his career, said it felt "bittersweet" to beat Nadal in his last appearance in Madrid.

"It's amazing for me, to share the court with such a legendary player is a dream come true," said Lehecka.

"All the best to Rafa, it's kind of bittersweet to have such a nice win in front of all these people, everyone cheering for him."

Earlier in the day, second seed Carlos Alcaraz extended his Madrid Open winning streak to a record-equalling 14 with a 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/4) victory over familiar foe Jan-Lennard Struff to move into the quarter-finals.

Top-seeded Jannik Sinner meanwhile overcame Karen Khachanov 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 to reach his fourth Masters 1000 quarter-final in as many events this season.

The reigning Australian Open champion will face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 7-5, for a place in the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, third seed Daniil Medvedev completed his full set of Masters 1000 quarter-finals reached by defeating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

- Swiatek fights back -

On the women's side, Iga Swiatek was made to sweat in her 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Brazilian lefty Beatriz Haddad Maia, as she dropped her first set of the tournament and needed two and a half hours to reach a second consecutive Madrid semi-final.

Swiatek squandered a 4-1 lead to lose the first set but the world number one struck back with a vengeance, cutting down on her errors to sweep the next eight games.

Swiatek, 22, took four of the last five games to set up a last-four showdown with American 18th seed Madison Keys.

"I needed to stick to the tactics, because in the first set I started making too many mistakes. I started playing too fast," said Swiatek.

"I just needed to really get back to basics and what I wanted to play today. It took me a while, longer than usual, but I'm glad that it happened after the set anyway."

Keys, 29, came back from 0-6, 0-2 down to upset 2022 champion Ons Jabeur 0-6, 7-5, 6-1. She snapped the Tunisian's nine-match winning streak in Madrid to reach her first semi-final at the Caja Magica, on her 10th appearance.


AFP


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