The 21-time Major winner Rafael Nadal will return to his beloved clay in a couple of weeks, mighty relieved after a perfect start of the season and the Australian Open title. Last year, the king of clay suffered an early loss in his beloved Monte Carlo, falling to Andrey Rublev in the quarter-final.
Nadal skipped two months after the Australian Open due to a back injury, withdrawing from Rotterdam and Miami and hoping for better results during his favorite swing. Seeking the 12th title in the Principality, Rafa could not go all the way, beating two rivals before an in-form Russian sent him out.
Rublev toppled his idol 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in two hours and 32 minutes, stunning the 20-time Major champion and remaining on the title course. In his first match since the Australian Open quarter-final, Rafa made a strong start against Federico Delbonis, losing only three games and standing as the favorite against Grigor Dimitrov.
Struggling with a tooth infection, Dimitrov took only two games against the Spaniard, who sealed the deal in 55 minutes to sail into the quarters.
Rafael Nadal lost to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo last year.
Rublev, one of the season's best players at that moment, proved to be too strong for the king of clay, prevailing and advancing into the second straight Masters 1000 semi-final after Miami a few weeks earlier.
Rublev stole Nadal's serve on seven occasions, dominating the scoreboard in sets one and three to deliver one of his most cherished victories. Andrey had 23 winners and 28 unforced errors, taming his strokes nicely and taking advantage of Rafa's over 30 unforced mistakes, especially from his backhand wing.
Like in 2019 against Fabio Fognini, Nadal was miles from his best, spraying too many double faults and failing to match Rublev's pace in sets one and three to hit the exit door. "I think I concluded Monte Carlo; there's nothing more to say.
That tournament is already in the past. The defeats are not positive or pleasant, but they put everyone at their place at the particular event. I'm in Barcelona now, and I hope to play on the highest level, aware there are things to improve.
In Monte Carlo, I did some things wrong, and it came as a surprise to me, especially after solid training sessions. The important thing is to understand what you did wrong and not repeat that. After a defeat, you need a couple of days to dismiss doubts and recover," Rafael Nadal said.