Tight de Minaur ousted by vintage Nadal in Madrid Open

Ian Chadband |

Rafael Nadal was the picture of delight after his revenge win over Alex de Minaur in Madrid.
Rafael Nadal was the picture of delight after his revenge win over Alex de Minaur in Madrid.

Alex de Minaur has missed out on the chance of a lifetime to beat Rafael Nadal on clay in successive tournaments, blown away by the rejuvenated, emotionally-charged Spanish great in the Madrid Open.

The Australian No.1, looking a shadow of the player who blitzed Nadal in Barcelona 10 days earlier, seemed tight and a mite distracted in the face of passionate support for the home idol in the Caja Magica on Saturday as he succumbed 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 in the second round.

But for 37-year-old Nadal, cheered by Spanish king Felipe VI and footballing royalty Zinedine Zidane, there were moments of old purple perfection as he blasted spectacular winners past the fleet Sydneysider in a two-hour reminder of why no-one can write him off on the surface he adores.

In just Nadal’s fourth match since his latest three-month injury lay-off, de Minaur was fancied to repeat his Barcelona win, and become the first to knock him out of successive tournaments since Roger Federer did so in 2017.

De Minaur far from best
Alex de Minaur was far from his best as he lost to Nadal in straight sets. (EPA PHOTO)

But in what’s been billed as his farewell tour, this felt much more like a reawakening as Nadal changed tactics, offering flat-hitting de Minaur plenty of high-looping, top-spinning shots that ensured the uncomfortable Aussie couldn’t find any rhythm.

Evidently feeling like the sacrifice in the seething bullring that was the Manolo Santana Stadium, de Minaur chucked in an uncharacteristic 33 unforced errors.

Nadal, though, was left beaming after all his recent gloomy pronouncements about the state of his fitness. 

Now asked if this was a sign he was close to rediscovering his best, he just smiled: “No, not yet no, I need time.

“I’m still on an up, super-happy now to be able to be competitive against a great player like Alex for over two hours, it means a lot to me.”

The immediate future? “I dont know, I really believe tennis hasn’t been an issue the last two years, more the physical issues.

“If I’m able to play weeks in a row, I’ll see how far I can go and how competitive I could be. But step by step, let’s see how I recover really.”

The key to victory came in the opening tiebreak when de Minaur saved four set points, only for Nadal to conjure up an amazing, scurrying backhand cross-court winner to earn a fifth set point which he annexed after a 76-minute slugfest.

From there, he earned a quick break in the second set and de Minaur seemed utterly frazzled by the time he served a double fault on match point to gift the win, Nadal’s first victory over a top-20 player since 2022.

It was a bad afternoon for the Australian challenge all round as Max Purcell went down 6-3 6-3 to 25th seed Sebastian Korda, while 32nd seed Jordan Thompson will be kicking himself after serving for the match against Russia’s Pavel Kotov in the final set, only to succumb 5-7 6-4 7-5 after a three-and-a-quarter hour slog. 

So, there are no Australians left in the singles draws as Nadal next faces Argentina’s Pedro Cachin, who defeated Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-4.

Top seed Jannik Sinner marched on, brushing aside fellow Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-0 6-3, while third seed Daniil Medvedev came from a set down to defeat Matteo Arnaldi.

But the surprise of the day came as Stefanos Tsitsipas, looking to make it three straight finals, lost 6-4 6-4 to Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro.

AAP