‘Emotional’ Rafael Nadal bows out of Madrid Open, likely his final match in Spanish capital

Rafael Nadal had an “emotional day” playing what was likely to be his final professional match in the Spanish capital, losing 7-5 6-4 against Czech Republic’s Jiří Lehečka at the Madrid Open.

The 22-time grand slam singles champion is looking to rediscover his form after a spate of injury problems have hampered his progress so far this year.

Before the tournament, Nadal said that he was determined to play in Madrid – where he is a record five-time champion – one final time, despite doubts about whether he was physically ready to compete at a high level.

However, he won his first three matches before losing to Lehečka in the fourth round, showing no obvious signs that his body was holding him back.

“Today is an emotional day, of course, today is an unforgettable day in terms of saying goodbye to Madrid,” Nadal told reporters. “But it’s one of the places – or even probably the place – where I’ve received more love and support during all these years.

“My career keeps going and I have my personal goals for the next couple of weeks.”

Tuesday’s match saw a close opening set until Lehečka broke Nadal to love at 5-5 and then breezed through his own service game to take the first set, silencing the home crowd.

Nadal reaches for a backhand against Lehečka. - Julian Finney/Getty Images
Nadal reaches for a backhand against Lehečka. - Julian Finney/Getty Images

The world No. 31 claimed another break in the opening game of the second set and, though Nadal battled hard to stay in touch, was able to see out the victory from there in just over two hours.

Lehečka will now face Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

The tournament paid tribute to Nadal’s five titles at the Madrid Open after the match, unfurling banners with photos of his victories in 2005, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017.

While his family members shed tears in the players’ box, Nadal thanked fans for their support, which he said would “stay with me forever.”

The Spaniard later told reporters that he now plans to play at the Italian Open in Rome as he continues to target more grand slam success at the French Open, which begins on May 26.

“It has been a very positive week, winning three matches, playing four matches at a high level of tennis,” said Nadal. “I enjoy it a lot playing at home and I leave here with a very positive energy in all ways.”

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