Rafael Nadal had ups and downs on clay this year, winning two titles but suffering three losses, including the toughest one at Roland Garros to Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard saved a match point against Stefanos Tsitsipas in that epic Barcelona Open final, hoping for more in his second home event in Madrid.
Seeking the first Caja Magica title since 2017, Nadal suffered a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Alexander Zverev. The latter stood as the more aggressive and determined player on the court to earn the first victory on clay over Rafa. For the third straight clay-court Masters 1000 event, Nadal failed to reach the semis despite a great start and a 4-2 advantage in the opener.
Rafael Nadal praised Alexander Zverev after their Madrid Open clash.
After that, Zverev took charge and claimed ten of the next 14 games to seal the deal in style and remain on the title course. Alexander landed almost 30 winners and tamed his strokes nicely to leave Rafa behind with three breaks on his tally.
Nadal lost the edge from the middle of the opening set, unable to impose his strokes and remaining under ten winners. After the match, the Spaniard revealed that he was not surprised by his rival's pace, knowing it would be a tough one right from the start.
The German fended off a break chance at 3-4 and grabbed a break in the next one to gather momentum before a hold at 15 at 5-4. Zverev placed a forehand winner at 2-2 in set number two to grab a break and served well until the end to advance into the semis.
"It is always a balance between your poor tennis and the opponent's high level. But, yes, of course, it was more the second than the first. I initially had the match under control, playing well in the opening six games and probably better than Alexander.
Serving for 5-2, I produced a disaster and played another terrible service game from 30-0 at 4-4. It wasn't easy for me to remain confident after that, not in these conditions and against the rival from the top. I did my best but couldn't control my serve.
Well done to Alexander; he played his game, and his level didn't surprise me. He is ranked at the top, and you should expect this kind of tennis from him," Rafael Nadal said.