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Nadal falls to Lehecka in final Madrid Open match

Rafael Nadal says it has been a “very emotional” week after he made his last-ever appearance at the Madrid Open.

The former world number one, a five time champion in the Spanish capital, waved an emotional farewell to the tournament after losing in straight sets to Jiri Lehecka.

The 37-year-old has indicated he plans to retire after the 2024 season.

“I’m happy,” Nadal said after the 7-5 6-4 defeat.

“It was a very special week for me, very positive and very emotional. I had the opportunity to play one more time here on this court.

“All I can say is thank you to everyone that has helped me in my career. It hasn’t finished yet.”

Despite losing, Nadal’s previous success at the tournament was celebrated with a video tribute and he was awarded a commemorative trophy.

“This was a joke, because I’ll be back next year,” said Nadal, with his family watching on from the stands.

He added: “It has been a gift what you’ve given me here.

“The emotion that I get from this experience in Madrid, from the Spanish public… I was lucky as a kid to do the job that I love. I feel super fortunate to have lived the life that I’ve lived. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Nadal held firm in the opening stages, but Lehecka delivered the first blow at 5-5 and backed the break up with a hold to love to claim the opening set.

The Czech 30th seed continued to outpower the 22-time Grand Slam champion, who dropped serve early in the second set.

A raucous crowd in Manolo Santana Stadium roared on their home hope, but the sole break of serve proved enough for Lehecka to wrap up the after victory with his first match point after two hours three minutes.

He will face Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev, who defeated Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.

Meanwhile, Nadal, who made his return from a three-month injury absence at the Barcelona Open earlier this month, will take confidence from his three victories in Madrid that he can compete at the French Open for a final time.

A 14-time champion at Roland Garros, he missed the tournament for the first time in 19 years through injury in 2023.

The French Open, the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, starts on 26 May.

Alcaraz survives scare against Struff

Image caption,

Alcaraz is bidding to become the first player to win three straight titles at the Madrid Open

Elsewhere on Tuesday, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz survived a scare against Jan-Lennard Struff to reach the last-eight.

In a repeat of last year’s final, Spain’s Alcaraz was forced to a deciding set tie-break by the German 23rd seed, after missing out on four match points at 5-3.

But the world number three prevailed in front of a home crowd to wrap up a 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4) win after almost three hours.

Alcaraz won the last two editions of the Madrid Open and is on a 14-match winning streak in the Spanish capital.

The 20-year-old will face Russian seventh seed Andrey Rublev, who beat Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-2 6-4 earlier on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Italian top seed Jannik Sinner remains on course for his fourth title of 2024 after beating Karen Khachanov 5-7 6-3 6-3.

The Australian Open champion reacted well to dropping his first set of the tournament before setting up a last-eight meeting Canada’s Auger-Aliassime who claimed a surprise win over Norway’s in-form Casper Ruud.

German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, the 2021 champion, fell to a 6-3 6-4 defeat by Francisco Cerundolo.

The Argentine 11th seed will play America’s Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals after the 12th seed saw off Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in straight sets.


Russell Fuller, BBC Sport tennis correspondent

There was a standing ovation for Nadal before the final game, and an on-court presentation afterwards, as Lehecka waited patiently to do his winner’s interview.

Nadal smiled his way through the presentation ceremony to honour his stunning career and five titles in Madrid, but not all of his family were able to keep the tears at bay.

Lehecka was terrific – what power, touch and composure.

But this was Nadal’s night at the end of what has been a very encouraging week for him with the French Open in mind.

Four matches in six days, after just nine in the previous 17 months, feels like a significant step forward.

Nadal leaves Madrid seemingly unscathed and with the opportunity to play in Rome next week before attention turns to Roland Garros, and the challenge of best of five. –