Nadal’s Passion, Positivity On Clay Remain True

Rafael Nadal (photo: Mutua Madrid video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 3, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Only a week since Rafael Nadal‘s remarkable three-hour, 38-minute marathon triumph over Stefanos Tsitsipas that earned him his 12 ATP 500 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell crown in just his third ATP Tour event of 2021, the widely-acknowledged King of Clay held court Sunday afternoon during a virtual press conference for international tennis writers covering the ATP Masters 1000 Mutua Madrid Open in the Spanish capital city.

Nadal’s last title in Madrid came in 2017. Since then, he reached the quarterfinals in 2018 and was a semifinalist in 2019, the last year the tournament was held. He enters this year’s event at La Caja Mágica having won 35 previous ATP Masters 1000 titles.

Tennis TourTalk asked the 34-year-old Nadal how his mindset was coming into Madrid from his title win in Barcelona. He said: “It’s another opportunity for me to play in another big event on clay at home with some crowds. That makes a big difference. I’m excited about that. My mindset is always the same: Arrive at the tournament, have the right preparation, and try to compete at the highest level from the beginning.”


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In looking back, Nadal acknowledged that Barcelona was “an important week” for him. “Without playing my best since the beginning, I was able to be passionate, to stay positive and to accept the challenge [and] try to win matches without playing my best. I was able to achieve another important title in my career. That’s important for my confidence.

“I really believe that winning these kinds of tournaments when you are not playing that can then make a difference for the next ones. I feel that that was a positive week. Now is another week, and I hope to be ready.”

Men’s main draw begins in Madrid

The men’s main draw of the Mutua Madrid Open began Sunday with four first-round matches, highlighted by No. 11 seed Denis Shapovalov‘s 6-1, 6-3 victory over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic. The win ended a two-match losing streak on clay for the 22-year-old Canadian, which began in Barcelona and extended to Estoril.

Shapovalov hit 21 winners to just five for Lajovic and advanced in just 63 minutes. Next, he will play Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, who defeated Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 7-6 (5), 6-3. Other winners on Sunday were American Tommy Paul, who advanced over wild card Pedro Martinez of Spain, 6-4, 7-5, and Alex de Minaur of Australia, who beat Jaume Munar of Spain, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

“Just definitely felt a lot better today; I felt very good on the court,” Shapovalov said during his virtual press conference. “I’m just happy to get the first win.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Shapovalov how important it was to him to get a win on clay and put his losing streak behind him. He responded: “I don’t care if I lose 40 matches. It’s about the next match. I’m happy to get the win. Now, it’s back to work to get ready for the next match. It’s nothing to dwell on.”

On Monday, there are 10 men’s first-round matches scheduled. Among those in action are No. 13 seed Grigor Dimitrov against Lloyd Harris, No. 16 Cristian Garin facing wild card Fernando Verdasco and #NextGenATP rising Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz, a wild card recipient, who will face Adrian Mannarino. Unseeded John Isner, Dan Evans and Fabio Fognini are also in action.

Monday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play

What they’re saying

Australia’s Alex de Minaur, following his two-hour and 23-minute 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 comeback win over Jaume Munar of Spain, as told to Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amitraj: “This is one of those wins that really helps your morale, helps build a lot of confidence.” De Minaur had lost five of six before Sunday’s victory. “It was about an hour and a half of me not being too comfortable out there, not playing my best tennis knowing I could bring a higher level, but just not executing. I’m just very proud how I hung in there. I just kept going, kept trying to stay positive and eventually kept putting myself in a position to break.

“It finally went my way and I was able to play some much better tennis and tennis that I wanted to play. [I am] very happy.”


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What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Rafael Nadal on why he’s continued to thrive playing on clay for so many years: “For such a long time I have been playing well during this part of the season. Probably clay has adapted well to my game, no? The part of season works well for me. I have always looked forward to this time of the season. I love the tournaments. It’s close to home. Clay tournaments are part of the history of our sport. Personally, I always enjoy playing in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, here, Rome and, of course, Roland Garros. I am very familiar with all of these places. I enjoy it and I keep enjoying it, which is the most important thing.”

Denis Shapovalov on the importance of being able to play in front of fans in Madrid: “It’s unbelievable. Honestly, it’s tough to play without fans. Obviously, we’ve had to do it; we had no option. It’s definitely much more fun to be out on the court. It does feel like a tournament environment when you’re playing in front of people, in front of fans. We’re showmen. We get to put on a show in front of a live audience this week. For sure, it’s something special, super positive and, hopefully, we’re over the hump. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll have more tournaments with fans, again.”