Rafael Nadal refuses to cry: 'I'm not retiring'

Rafael Nadal experienced an emotional night at the home Madrid Masters

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal refuses to cry: 'I'm not retiring'
© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal lost in the fourth round of the Madrid Masters, falling to Jiri Lehecka 7-5, 6-4 and ending his 20th and probably the last campaign at the home event. After the match, the organizers prepared a ceremony for the five-time Madrid Masters champion, showing the banners with his triumphant years and presenting Rafa with a unique trophy.

Nadal's family could not find tears, while a 22-time Major winner tried to avoid them. The Spaniard explained why he did not want to look at them and cry himself, not ending his career in Madrid and looking forward to what stands ahead of him.

The veteran is trying to extend his career after struggling with injuries in the previous years, playing only 13 matches since the beginning of 2023 and dropping out from the top-600. Nadal is eager to recover physically and give himself a couple more chances to seek notable titles and end his career on his terms.

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

The Spaniard will throw everything on the upcoming Roland Garros, preparing to give 120% at his beloved Major and seek a deep run if his body allows that.

Nadal missed almost the entire 2023 season, hurting his left hip in the Australian Open second round and embracing the most extended break of his career. Rafa returned in the opening week of 2024 in Brisbane, winning two matches before falling to Jordan Thompson after wasting three match points.

The encounter lasted three and a half hours, and the veteran's body could not endure the effort. Nadal felt the pain around his hip and decided to skip the Australian Open following an MRI check. Rafa returned to Mallorca and started with training sessions in February.

However, he felt abdominal pain (that injury ruined the second part of his 2022 season) and skipped Doha, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo. Nadal played his first match after over three months in Barcelona, defeating Flavio Cobolli in straight sets.

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

Rafael Nadal is giving his everything to extend his career.

The Spaniard faced Alex de Minaur in the second round and could not play at a high level for the entire duel.

De Minaur stole the opener with a late break and dominated set number two, delivering an early loss for the 12-time champion. Rafa admitted it was all over for him after the first set, not having enough strength in his body to endure sets two and three.

The veteran had to think about his next move, contemplating skipping Madrid after not feeling at his best. However, Rafa decided to give it a go in front of the home fans, entering his beloved event for the 20th time! Nadal stopped the clock and defeated three rivals at Caja Magica, achieving that for the first time since the 2022 US Open.

Rafa kicked off his 20th Madrid Masters campaign against the 16-year-old Darwin Blanch, notching a dominant 6-1, 6-0 triumph. The veteran faced Alex de Minaur in the second round and avenged the Barcelona Open defeat, earning a 7-6, 6-3 win and moving into the last 32.

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

Rafa stayed focused in the opener, claiming it after nearly 80 minutes and overpowering the better-ranked opponent in set number two. Nadal met Pedro Cachin in the third round and embraced a marathon.

The home favorite prevailed 6-1, 6-7, 6-3 after three hours and four minutes, playing well in sets one and three and booking a place in the last 16 for the 16th straight time in Madrid! Rafa made a reliable start before struggling in his games in sets two and three.

He got broken four times and responded with nine return games from 18 opportunities, making a fresh start in the decider and celebrating another win in front of the partisan crowd. Nadal landed 36 winners and 32 unforced errors, overpowering Cachin in the most advanced rallies.

Rafa set the clash against the young Czech Jiri Lehecka, seeking a spot in his 100th Masters 1000 quarter-final. The veteran gave everything in a 7-5, 6-4 loss after two hours and two minutes, saying goodbye to the home crowd during an emotional ceremony.

Lehecka saved a break point in the eighth game of the opener, delivering a late break and ending Nadal's resistance with an early return game on his tally in set number two. Rafa could not deal with Jiri's first serve, creating only one break chance.

The young gun grabbed 39% of the return points and turned them into consecutive breaks that decided the winner. Nadal will travel to Rome and test his body before deciding on his Roland Garros participation.

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

"I tried not to look at my family because I did not want to cry.

It was an emotional night, but it was not my last match. I'm not retiring; I just said goodbye to a very special place. I will keep going, and I did not set the retirement day, so I do not want to become too emotional. This night will stay in my heart forever, but I'm trying to keep going and stay on my path," Rafael Nadal said.

Rafael Nadal Madrid Masters