Rafael Nadal bids an emotional farewell to home fans after Madrid Open exit

Rafael Nadal bade an emotional farewell to his home fans after losing to Jiri Lehecka on his final appearance at the Madrid Open.

The great Spaniard is playing his final season on tour and had battled into the fourth round but young Czech Lehecka proved too strong, winning 7-5 6-4 to dash the hopes of a partisan crowd at the Caja Magica.

Nadal has won the tournament a record five times, firstly in 2005 and lastly in 2017, and five banners spelling out ‘Gracias Rafa’ were unveiled following his defeat just after midnight before he was awarded a special trophy.

“I had the opportunity to play one more time here on this court,” said Nadal afterwards. “It was a very special week for me, very positive and very emotional.

“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.

“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.”

Nadal had a gloomy outlook about his physical condition before competing in Madrid and even cast doubt on appearing at the French Open, but that now appears much more likely, while his next test is set to come at the Italian Open in Rome next week.

He thrashed 16-year-old Darwin Blanch for the loss of one game then avenged his defeat in Barcelona to 10th seed Alex de Minaur before winning a titanic three-hour tussle against Argentina’s Pedro Cachin in just his second tournament since suffering a new hip problem in January.

He kept pace with Lehecka in the first 10 games but the Czech, ranked 31, broke to love at 5-5 before serving out the opening set.

Nadal dropped serve again to start the second set and was unable to claw his way back into the contest, finishing with a tally of 14 winners compared to 33 from Lehecka, who next meets third seed Daniil Medvedev.

Two-time defending champion Carlos Alcaraz survived a real scrap against Jan-Lennard Struff in a rematch of last year’s final, eventually prevailing 6-3 6-7 (5) 7-6 (4).

Top seed Jannik Sinner also dropped a set against Karen Khachanov before coming through 5-7 6-3 6-3 and will next face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who saw off Barcelona champion Casper Ruud 6-4 7-5.

In the women’s event, top seed Iga Swiatek was tested for the first time in the quarter-finals by Beatriz Haddad Maia but fought back strongly after dropping the first set for a 4-6 6-0 6-2 victory.

In the last four she will take on American Madison Keys, who lost the first eight games against Ons Jabeur but battled to a 0-6 7-5 6-1 win.

Sourse: breakingnews.ie

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