Chasing the first Madrid Open title since 2017, Rafael Nadal faced the young Aussie Alexei Popyrin in the third round. It was their first meeting, and Alexei was ready to produce his best tennis and challenge the 20-time Major winner.
Popyrin won the opening seven points to show the fighting spirit before Nadal recovered his game and earned a 6-3, 6-3 victory in 79 minutes for a place in the quarters. Recalling the match, Alexei said that Rafa changed his tactics after losing those opening seven points, targeting his backhand and taking advantage in the exchanges.
Popyrin stayed aggressive from start to finish, landing 20 winners and the same number of unforced errors, while Rafa stood on an 11-15 ratio. The Spaniard did more damage with his initial shot and controlled the pace in the shortest and mid-range rallies, fending off five out of six break points in the opener and stealing Popyrin's serve four times to move into the next round.
The Aussie held at love in the opening game and created three break chances in the next one. Nadal repelled them to close the game with a service winner and avoid an early setback. Alexei lost the ground a bit and hit a double fault in game three to fall behind before Rafa held at 30 with another powerful serve to open a 3-1 gap.
The youngster sprayed a backhand mistake in the fifth game to experience another break before finding the rhythm on the return and reducing the deficit to 2-4. Nadal grabbed another break at 5-3 to wrap up the opener in 42 minutes.
Alexei Popyrin lost to Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open third round.
At the beginning of the second set, the Spaniard fired a forehand down the line winner and placed another in game two to break at love and race further in front.
Nadal confirmed the lead with a service winner in game three and held at 15 with an ideal backhand crosscourt winner for 4-1. Alexei served great after that initial break and produced excellent holds in games four, six and eight to remain within one break deficit.
Rafa closed the seventh game with a powerful forehand and moved over the top with a hold at 15 at 5-3, securing the quarter-final berth for the 11th time at Caja Magica. "Rafa did not do anything special throughout the match, but in the middle of the first set, I thought I had to do more than I did, and that caused mistakes to come.
I kind of gifted him the match - but I chalk this down to experience. I'll learn from it; he's one of the greatest of all time. You can see straight away after I won those first seven points, he completely changed his tactics, hitting loopy balls to the backhand and trying to pressure me - and it worked for him.
Next time we play, I will not fall into that trap, and I'll focus on what I have to do and try not to blast him off the court with every shot. I learned I should not be scared to rally with him," Alexei Popyrin said.