Rafael Nadal bids emotional farewell to Madrid Open after loss to Jiri Lehecka (2024)

Rafael Nadal’s rousing, dramatic last stand on home soil came to an end just after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday as he was outhit and outplayed by Jiri Lehecka. The talented young Czech seized one of the biggest moments of his career by ­toppling the Spaniard 7-5, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open.

The defeat will probably mark Nadal’s final time competing at the tournament he has won a record five times, with the 37-year-old expecting 2024 to be the final year of his career.

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An emotional Nadal remained on court as he received a special presentation, with five banners picturing his record five wins falling down from the closed roof as Madrid said goodbye to its greatest champion.

“It is very special for me,” said Nadal. “I have had the opportunity to play again on this court that has given me so much. When I left for Barcelona I did not know if I would be able to compete again. It has been an unforgettable week. The only thing I can do is give thanks.

“The first time I arrived competitively in Madrid, in 2005, it was one of the most exciting victories I have had. To this day it has only been unconditional support and affection from everyone.”

While a round of 16 defeat at any clay court event was once a blow for Nadal, after the most desperate 18 months of his career, this performance represents a significant step forward. He leaves Madrid with four matches under his belt, his body seemingly still holding firm and having made clear progress in his comeback from injury.

Rafael Nadal bids emotional farewell to Madrid Open after loss to Jiri Lehecka (1)

He had entered the match with questions over his durability after his tense three-set win over Pedro Cachín a day earlier. Unlike Nadal’s previous opponents, Lehecka is a destructive ball-striker with the weapons to put opponents under relentless pressure. Although Nadal began the match holding confidently and striking the ball with authority, it was the 22-year-old who controlled many of the exchanges, even if early on he paired his dominance with too many mistakes.

As the 22-time grand slam ­champion’s depth waned during the first set, Lehecka found his range. He took the decisive break with some incredible shot-making, pummelling the ball from on top ofthe baseline and showing delicatetouches around the net on decisive points.

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The Serb said last week he was considering going without a coach after ending a five-year partnership with Goran Ivanisevic last month, following his early exit from Indian Wells. Djokovic has skipped the Madrid Open this year but plans to compete in Rome before the French Open and Paris Olympics.

'What amazing years of collaboration we've had. We reached the summit, won titles, broke records,' Djokovic wrote on Instagram. '[Thank you] for all the energy, effort and time you invested in making me the best possible player and person I can be. Much love.' Reuters

Despite Estadio Manolo Santana’s increasingly loud cheers, ­including the 12,400-strong crowd rising to their feet with chants of “si, se puede’’ (yes, we can) before the final game, Lehecka held his nerve to see off Nadal with a ­brilliantperformance.

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The 14-time Roland Garros champion will now have to decide is he is physically prepared to ­compete in Paris, but he has given himself a solid foundation to build on as the tour heads to the Italian Open in Rome next week.

Iga Swiatek returned to the semi-finals by coming from behind to defeat Beatriz Haddad Maia 4-6, 6-0, 6-2. She will face Madison Keys afterthe American also recovered froma set down, defeating Ons Jabeur 0-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Rafael Nadal bids emotional farewell to Madrid Open after loss to Jiri Lehecka (2)

Carlos Alcaraz survived a brutal encounter with Jan-Lennard Struff in a dramatic rematch of last year’s final. After squandering three match points on his serve in the final set, Alcaraz recovered to reach the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4) win. Jannik Sinner similarly struggled but found a way through, defeating Karen Khachanov 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

Rafael Nadal bids emotional farewell to Madrid Open after loss to Jiri Lehecka (2024)


What did Nadal say after his loss? ›

My body and my life had been sending me signs for some time,” Nadal said. “I was able to say goodbye playing on this court, one of the most emotional ones for me. Madrid at times has been more important to me than a Grand Slam. The memories here will stay with me forever.”

How many times did Nadal lose French Open? ›

Rafael Nadal is the record fourteen-time champion. He holds a 112–3 win–loss record at the event.

What was Nadal's quote? ›

The only way of finding a solution is to fight back, to move, to run, and to control that pressure. Humility is the recognition of your limitations. Competing or just for fun, whatever, simply enjoy and try your best. Work hard, have fun and make it happen.

Why did Nadal leave? ›

Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open on the eve of his first-round match at Indian Wells, saying in a social media post that he doesn't find himself "ready to play at the highest level at such an important event."

Who has beaten Nadal in Clay? ›

Djokovic is the only player to have defeated Nadal in four clay-court finals, the only player to defeat Nadal at the French Open in straight sets, the only player to defeat Nadal twice at the French Open, and the only player to defeat Nadal in seven consecutive finals.

How many times did Nadal lose on Clay? ›

He has a 63–8 record in clay court tournament finals and has lost only three times in best-of-five-set matches on clay.

What rank is Nadal now? ›

Rafael Nadal
Career record1075–224 (82.8%)
Career titles92 (5th in the Open Era)
Highest rankingNo. 1 (18 August 2008)
Current rankingNo. 276 (20 May 2024)
37 more rows

Why does Nadal put his water bottle? ›

If I didn't fit the bottles, it would mean that in breaks I could think of something other than a game. “This way, I make them the same each time so I can concentrate solely on the game and what lies ahead.” Is his meticulous routine the secret behind Nadal's longevity and success, though? Absolutely not, he says.

Is Nadal retiring in 2024? ›

The tennis event of the 2024 Olympic Games will take place at Roland Garros in Paris between July 27 and August 4, after the French Open (from May 20 to June 9), which Nadal has won 14 times. "Yes, it is going to be my last year 100 percent," Nadal said.


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