World no. 2 Rafael Nadal will kick off his 18th Madrid Open campaign on Wednesday against the young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Rafa will try to win the first title in Madrid since 2017, losing to Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the following two seasons.
Nadal has played only three tournaments so far in 2021 due to back issues, skipping the ATP Cup and wasting a massive advantage against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-final. Eager to recover, Nadal had to miss Rotterdam and the Miami Open, taking a couple of weeks off and returning in Monte Carlo at one of his favorite tournaments.
After two dominant wins, the Spaniard experienced the quarter-final loss to Andrey Rublev in three sets, struggling with his serve and backhand and heading back home to Mallorca for more practice sessions ahead of the Barcelona Open.
Chasing the 12th title on the court that carries his name, Rafa didn't play at his best in the early rounds, struggling like in Monte Carlo but surviving and reaching the semis. Rafa lost only five games against Pablo Carreno Busta, raising his level and entering the title clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
In 2018, the young Greek won only a couple of games against Rafa in Barcelona, and the recent match could not have been more different! The Monte Carlo champion pushed the 11-time winner to the limits, bouncing back after losing the opening set and fending off two match points in set number two to force a decider.
Pablo Carreno Busta honored Rafael Nadal as the greatest clay-courter of all time.
Throwing everything at each other, Rafa and Stefanos stayed neck and neck in the final set before the Greek created a match point on the return at 5-4.
Nadal denied it and rattled off three straight games to steal the triumph and prevail after three hours and 38 minutes! Pablo Carreno Busta believes that Rafa is always the favorite on clay at every tournament he enters, calling him the greatest player of all time on the slowest surface.
Pablo reminded that Nadal's level is so high and that he can't reach it easily, especially not after missing almost two months due to an injury. "Rafa is not at his best at the moment, although it's hard to maintain a very high level or recover it after not playing for a couple of months.
Rafa had to skip two months after the Australian Open, but he is still a player to beat on clay. It's challenging to play against him, and I consider Rafa the greatest clay-courter in history. To beat him, you have to use every weapon in your arsenal and play well from start to finish, hoping he is not at his best. Rafa is a favorite in every clay-court tournament and the title contender," Pablo Carreno Busta said.