Rafael Nadal and Alexei Popyrin faced in the Madrid Open third round last week, with the Spaniard beating the youngster 6-3, 6-3 in 79 minutes. An in-form Popyrin threw everything he had on Rafa, firing 20 winners and the same number of unforced errors to have the upper hand on the court.
Still, it wasn't enough at least for a set, as Rafa saved five out of six break chances and stole the rival's serve four times to advance into the quarters. Nadal praised his opponent and his striking abilities, needing some time to figure out the best way to beat him.
Popyrin enjoyed the duel, describing it as a privilege to face such a great champion and hoping to challenge Rafa even more in their upcoming encounters. Pumped to show his best tennis, Alexei claimed the opening seven points before Rafa saved those three break chances in game two and avoided an early setback.
The Spaniard grabbed a break in game three and held at 30 to forge a 3-1 advantage.
Alexei Popyrin shared thoughts about Rafael Nadal match from Madrid.
Nadal secured another break in game five before playing a loose service game to get broken for the first and only time.
Alexei reduced the deficit to 3-4 before Rafa clinched another break at 5-3 to wrap up the opener. The Spaniard dictated the pace with his forehand early in the second set to earn a break and move 4-1 ahead. Popyrin served great in the rest of the clash, producing comfortable holds in games four, six and eight to remain within one break deficit and hoping for a chance on the return.
Instead, Rafa closed the seventh game with a powerful forehand and sealed the deal with a hold at 15 in game nine to move into the last eight. "Oh, that's really great. It's put a smile on my face right now, hearing such great words from Nadal.
It's a privilege to compete against a player like him, and get complimented by him is an even bigger one. I'm grateful, and hopefully, I can test him a bit more the next time we play - because I'm sure there will be the next time.
Rafa didn't do anything special throughout the match, but in the middle of the first set, I thought I had to do more than I did, and that caused mistakes to come. I kind of gifted him the match - but I chalk this down to experience.
I'll learn from it; he's one of the greatest of all time. You can see straight away after I won those first seven points, he completely changed his tactics straight away, hitting loopy balls to the backhand, trying to pressure me - and it worked for him.
Next time we play, I won't fall into that trap, and I'll focus on what I have to do and try not to blast him off the court with every single shot. I learned I shouldn't be scared to rally with him," Alexei Popyrin said.
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