The 20-time Major winner Rafael Nadal was forced to finish the season already before the US Open due to an ongoing foot injury. Nadal struggled a lot in 2021 from the opening weeks, not playing at his best at two Majors and winning two titles on his beloved clay.
Nadal lifted trophies in Barcelona and Rome and suffered a tough 6-4, 6-4 loss to Alexander Zverev in the Madrid Open quarter-final in between. After Rome last September and Monte Carlo this April, it was the third consecutive clay-court Masters 1000 event without the semi-final for Rafa, which never happened to him before!
Seeking the first Madrid Open title since 2017, the Spaniard experienced the third straight loss against the German and the first on clay. Speaking about the match, Rafa said that he had the upper hand in the opening six games, serving well and forging a 4-2 advantage.
Staying calm, Alexander erased the deficit in the seventh game and never looked back, rattling off ten of the final 14 games to beat the home favorite 6-4, 6-4 and move into the semis.
Rafael Nadal made a great start vs. Alexander Zverev before losing in straight sets.
The German had a massive advantage after hitting almost 30 winners, reducing Nadal's shots to control the rallies and stay aggressive.
Rafa grabbed that early break but could not do anything on the return in the rest of the encounter, suffering three breaks to propel the rival through. Returning at 2-4, Alexander passed Rafa at the net to pull the break back and gain confidence.
From 30-0 at 4-4, Nadal wasted a game point and got broken when his backhand found the net, which cost him the opener. Zverev claimed a break with a forehand down the line winner at 2-2 in set number two and served well to seal the deal and earn his first victory over Rafa on clay.
"It is always a balance between your poor tennis and the opponent's high level. This time, it was more the second than the first. I had the match under control initially, playing well in the opening six games and better than Alexander.
Serving for 5-2, I produced a disaster and played another terrible service game from 30-0 at 4-4. It was not easy for me to remain confident after that, not in these conditions and against the rival from the top. I did my best but could not control my serve.
Well done to Alexander; he played his game, and his level did not surprise me. He is ranked at the top, and you should expect this kind of tennis from him," Rafael Nadal said.