HomeTennisRafael Nadal delivers ‘very difficult’ announcement to emotional fans

Rafael Nadal delivers ‘very difficult’ announcement to emotional fans


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Rafael Nadal has played his last ever tennis match on home soil.

The legendary Spaniard went down in two sets to 31st-ranked Czech star Jiri Lehecka in two sets, 5-7, 4-6, in the round of 16 at the Madrid Open, an event Nadal has won five times.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Rafael Nadal bids farewell to Madrid for the last time.

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There was barely a dry eye in the stadium — including those of his wife and sisters, who were all pictured crying — as the 22-time grand slam champion was given the microphone to bid farewell to the adoring crowd.

While Nadal hasn’t officially announced his retirement, this year is expected to be the last of the 37-year-old’s glittering career.

“This is one of those times where when it arrives, it’s very difficult,” Nadal said in Spanish.

“But life and my body have been sending signals to me for a long time.

“My dream was to finish here on court. I have been fortunate in my life to turn my passion into my job. I am privileged.”

But even with emotion high in the room, the universally loved 37-year-old still found the perfect moment to crack a gag.

Rafael Nadal said farewell to his Spanish fans for the last time. Credit: The Tennis Letter

“This is a joke, next year I’m coming back,” he laughed.

Lehecka, who was four years old when Nadal won his first grand slam title in 2005, said he “always believed” he could reach this point.

“It’s amazing. For me to share the court with such a legendary player is a dream come true,” he said after the match.

“I always believed and wished to have this happen. It happened today.

“I’m very grateful to achieve such a big moment. But all the best to Rafa.

“It’s kind of bittersweet to have such a nice win in front of all these people cheering for him. The energy here was amazing.

“It was like I was in another universe. This was something I’ve never experienced before in my life on a tennis court.”

Nadal’s wife (right) and sisters were crying in the stands. Credit: The Tennis Letter

Nadal was given a standing ovation and guard of honour as he left Estadio Manolo Santana for the final time.

“Rafa Nadal waves goodbye to the crowd in Madrid for the very last time,” The Tennis Letter said.

“Listen to that noise. That’s the sound of 13,000 people who’ve been inspired and moved by what this man has given to the sport for so many years.

“A king leaving his kingdom.”

Nadal arrived in Madrid saying he wasn’t fully fit and was worried about his condition, but in the end was celebrating having won three consecutive matches without showing significant physical limitations.

He had only one break opportunity against the big-serving Lehecka, who has won his three matches in Madrid in straight sets.

Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Carlos Alcaraz needed nearly three hours to defeat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4) in a rematch of last year’s final in the Spanish capital and reach the quarter-finals.

Second-seeded Alcaraz squandered four match points while serving for victory at 5-3, but converted on his first opportunity to seal the victory in the deciding tiebreak at the Caja Magica centre court.

“I wasn’t at my best physically toward the end of the match, but I’m happy that in the end I found my game,” Alcaraz said.

“I fought for every ball and didn’t let down despite some difficult moments when things didn’t go my way.”

Alcaraz is trying to become the first player to win three straight Madrid Open titles. He also needed three sets to beat Struff in last year’s final. The world No. 3 will next face seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev at the claycourt tournament.

Top-seeded Jannick Sinner defeated 16th-seeded Karen Khachanov 5-7 6-3 6-3 to reach the Madrid quarter-finals for the first time. He is the only player to make it to the last eight at all four ATP 1000 events this season.

“I think today was really tough, because at some points he served really well, so it was tough to return,” the Italian said.

“I made a couple of mistakes in the first set when he broke me, but this can happen. In the second set I tried to stay focused immediately, I broke him, and the confidence level raised a bit.”

Francisco Cerundolo, ranked 22nd, upset two-time champion Alexander Zverev 6-3 6-4 for his third career win over a top-five player. Cerundolo next plays Taylor Fritz after the American defeated Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (7-2) 6-4.

Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev was given the run-around by Alexander Bublik before winning 7-6 (7-3) 6-4. The Russian next plays 30th-seeded Lehecka.

– With AAP

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