Rafael Nadal continued his chase for a record-extending sixth Mutua Madrid Open title on Thursday, beating Aussie Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals.
“It was difficult. The court today was slippery, it was very fast, very dry conditions. The ball was flying a lot. The beginning of the match was super tough,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “He was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. Very happy with the victory. It was an important victory, he came here playing well. Every match is tough.”
This is the top seed’s 15th trip to the last eight in the Spanish capital; the last time he didn’t make it this far was 2012. Nadal will next play 2018 champion Alexander Zverev or tricky Briton Daniel Evans, who upset World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Monte-Carlo.
The scoreline was straightforward, but there were difficult moments for the Spaniard. Nadal faced 0/40 in his first service game of the match at 0-1, but Popyrin made three consecutive errors to give away a golden opportunity to make a quick start and set the tone.
Popyrin did well with his first serve, winning 83 per cent of those points. But the World No. 76 did not land enough of his first deliveries (51%), allowing Nadal to work his way into points and turn rallies into a baseline grind. Although the aggressive qualifier battled hard to stay in contact with the home favourite, he was unable to find enough consistency to make it even closer.
“I think I was doing things well, even if it was difficult to play against a player like him, [since] he was trying to hit every single ball,” Nadal said. “He was hitting every ball hard. I needed to adapt and I think I did that well.”
Nadal was opportunistic, converting four of his six break points and winning 43 per cent of his return points to advance after one hour and 20 minutes. The 34-year-old is now 10-0 against Australians and 40-0 against qualifiers on clay.
Popyrin was playing in the Round of 16 at an ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time and pursuing his first victory against a top five opponent. This year’s Singapore champion, who defeated Jannik Sinner to earn a shot at Nadal, will climb to a career-high FedEx ATP Ranking next Monday.
“Yesterday he played against Sinner and he beat Jannik, so maximum respect,” Nadal said. “He has a big potential, honestly.”
Rafael Nadal Second Serve Return Hit Points vs. Popyrin
– Graphic courtesy of Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media
– Take a deep dive into this match with Match Insights powered by Infosys NIA
Did You Know?
Nadal has now won seven consecutive matches dating back to the start of his title run at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. The lefty is 13-2 on the season, with his only losses coming in the Australian Open quarter-finals (l. to Tsitsipas) and the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals (l. to Rublev).