Emotional Rafael Nadal gives everything but falls in Madrid

Rafael Nadal lost to Jiri Lehecka in straight sets at Caja Magica

by Jovica Ilic
Emotional Rafael Nadal gives everything but falls in Madrid
© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Five-time Madrid Masters champion Rafael Nadal failed to reach the quarter-final at the home Masters 1000 event only for the second time after 2004! Nadal met Jiri Lehecka in the fourth round and experienced a 7-5, 6-4 loss in two hours and two minutes, ending his campaign in front of the home fans and missing a chance to notch his 100th Masters 1000 quarter-final!

World no. 31 survived a couple of challenging games in the opener and grabbed a late break, rattling off four games and ending the legend's resistance. Thus, Lehecka became the first player ranked outside the top-30 with a notable win on clay over Nadal.

The Spaniard stood powerless behind the first-serve return. He grabbed 17 points on the Czech's serve and missed the only break chance he created. On the other hand, the veteran dropped 39% of the points in his games, suffering back-to-back breaks at the worst moments that cost him dearly.

Rafael Nadal, Madrid 2024© Julian Finney / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The opening set lasted almost an hour, and Rafa had his chances. He served well, created a break chance in game eight and reached deuce at 5-4.

Lehecka passed those obstacles and clinched the last ten points, wrapping up the opener 7-5 and gaining a massive boost. The Czech dominated with the first serve, and they both struggled behind the second, although we saw only two break chances.

There were no chances for the returners in the opening seven games of the duel, with Nadal moving 4-3 in front with a service winner. The home favorite made a push on the return in the next one, generating a break chance after Lehecka's double fault.

Jiri denied it with a mighty forehand down the line winner, holding and remaining on the positive side. The veteran grabbed the ninth game at 15 with a service winner and reached deuce on the return from 0-40 at 5-4. Jiri stayed focused and landed two winners, wrapping up the game and gathering a boost.

Jiri Lehecka, Madrid 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal ended his 20th Madrid Masters campaign in the fourth round.

The young Czech made his first push on the return in the 11th game, creating three break chances after the Spaniard's loose volley.

Lehecka covered the net superbly on the first, landing a volley winner and opening a 6-5 advantage. The young gun served for the set in game 12 and created three set points with an ace down the T line. Jiri seized the first with a service winner for 7-5 after 57 minutes, clinching the final ten points of the set and gaining confidence.

Rafa sprayed a backhand error at the beginning of the second set, offering his rival two break points. Lehecka painted a backhand crosscourt winner on the first, delivering his second straight break and moving closer to the finish line.

Nadal fired a forehand down the line winner for deuce in game two before his rival held with a forehand down the line winner, cementing the lead and moving 2-0 in front. Rafa struggled behind the initial shot again in the third game, playing against three break chances.

Rafael Nadal, Madrid 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The veteran erased them and survived a couple of more deuces before bringing the game home and remaining within one break deficit. Jiri left those chances behind and landed four winners in the fourth game, opening a 3-1 lead and controlling everything.

The home favorite clinched the fifth game thanks to a crafty volley winner at the net after deuce, remaining within one break deficit. The Czech moved 4-2 ahead with a service winner in game six, feeling no pressure in his service games and keeping it on the other side.

The Spaniard served well in the seventh game, causing the rival's mistake and staying in touch. Lehecka blasted a powerful serve at 30-30 in the eighth game and closed it with a crafty volley winner, opening a 5-3 gap and forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the match.

Rafael Nadal, Madrid 2024© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

The four-time Caja Magica champion landed a perfect forehand down the line winner in the ninth game, holding at 15 and prolonging the battle.

Lehecka served for a notable victory at 5-4 and earned match points with a smash winner. The Czech seized the first after the Spaniard's wayward backhand, entering his second Masters 1000 quarter-final within two months after Indian Wells.

After the match, Nadal enjoyed a special ceremony with the tournament director and his great friend Feliciano Lopez, with five giant banners representing his five Madrid Masters trophies. Rafa's family cried in the stands, overwhelmed by emotions after what may be his last match in front of the home fans.

Plagued with injuries, Nadal is doing everything to extend his career, but this could be his last professional season, especially if he fails to recover and compete injury-free.

Rafael Nadal Jiri Lehecka Jiri Lehecka