Comeback Success For Nadal, Wins First Match On Clay At Madrid

Rafael Nadal (photo: ATP Tour video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 4, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

All eyes were on Rafael Nadal, the home country hero and five-time Mutua Madrid Open champion, as he walked out to great applause from the fans who filled Manolo Santana Stadium Wednesday afternoon. Partly cloudy conditions that later turned to light rain and forced the roof to be shut – plus a formidable opponent in No. 32 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, who had reached six straight ATP quarterfinals – awaited the World No. 4 from Mallorca.

After a six-week hiatus to allow a stress fracture of one of his ribs to heal, suffered in Indian Wells in March, the 35-year-old Nadal returned to action on his beloved red clay in search of his 37th career ATP Masters 1000 title. He brought an impressive 20-1win-loss record for 2022 into the tournament. His opponent, 22-year-old Kecmanovic, has been equally strong with a 22-9 record this year but came in 0-3 against Top-5 opponents. In their only previous meeting, Nadal beat Kecmanovic at Acapulco in 2020.

The 21-time major champion Nadal was pragmatic about his chances of winning another Madrid title when he spoke with reporters earlier this week. “I have improved compare to when I arrived here [in Madrid], but I still have ups and downs, because it’s been a long time. It’s going to be a difficult week. That’s the reality. We have to be calm; we have to accept that things are going to be far away from perfection, but then onwards we just have to fight. I’m recovered. I feel good.”

There’s a good reason why Nadal is currently in his 867th consecutive week of being ranked inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. Against Kecmanovic, he found a way to win and did just that, 6-1, 7-6 (4), in one hour and 55 minutes in his first match on clay this season.

The entertaining victory advanced Nadal to Thursday’s third round against 60th-ranked qualifier David Goffin of Belgium, who turned back 31st-ranked Munich finalist Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 30 minutes outside on Court 4.

Nadal raced to a double-break lead with consecutive breaks of Kecmanovic’s serve in the fourth and sixth games of the opening set. Soon, he served out it out at love to win the 36-minute first set 6-1 without facing any break points himself.

Then, after the roof was closed about 50 minutes into the match, with Kecmanovic ahead 1-0 (15-0) in the second set, Nadal recovered to win in a tie-break after failing to serve out the match at 6-5. His third ace secured his 22nd victory of the season as he chases after his first Madrid title since 2017. Nadal struck 29 winners to 23 unforced errors compared to Kecmanovic’s 15 winners and 22 unforced errors. He outpointed his opponent 72-56.

“Every comeback is different,” Nadal stressed in his post-match press conference. “Today was a very important match for me, playing at home and on clay. [Miomir] has been playing well for the past few months. So, if you put everything together, it was a tough first match. But I think I managed it very well. I played at a good level, so I am very pleased with the victory.

“I know I need to stay humbled as I know things aren’t going to be perfect here. I need to move forward with the right determination and I need to stay positive.”

Two-time Madrid champion Zverev rallies to beat Cilic

Two-time Madrid champion Alexander Zverev put the first set of his second-round match against Marin Cilic behind him quickly and went about putting on a hitting clinic that resulted in 11 aces – including on match point – and 32 overall winners in his 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. It was the defending titlist and current World No. 3 Zverev’s 16th career victory in Madrid and seventh straight win against No. 24 Cilic.

A semifinalist earlier this season on clay at Monte-Carlo, Zverev bounced back from an early-round loss to eventual Munich champion Holger Rune last week and outpointed Cilic 94-83.

“Obviously the final, lifting the trophy is the ultimate satisfaction,” Zverev, who won Madrid titles in 2018 and 2021, said earlier this week of his two previous title runs in the Spanish capital city.

After beating Cilic, Zverev added: “I thought I played well, I just lost focus in the first set. But I am happy with the win and I am happy be through. In the altitude, Marin is a difficult opponent. I’m happy with the match.

“It’s always great to have memories in the back of your mind, but I’ve got to focus on this year and focus on playing well. Hopefully, I can do it this year.”

Next, Zverev will play 63rd-ranked Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti, who defeated No. 30 Sebastian Korda of the United States, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour and 41 minutes Wednesday evening on Stadium 3. Musetti converted five of eight break points and outpointed Korda 72-58.

Just 20, Sinner garners 100th career victory

World No. 12 and Jannik Sinner of Italy earned the 100th tour-level victory of his budding career Thursday evening. The 20-year-old tenth seed from South Tyrol defeated No. 22 Alex de Minaur of Australia, 6-4, 6-1, in an hour and 14 minutes on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium. It was Sinner’s fourth career win over de Minaur in four meetings.

Sinner hit 12 winners and broke de Minaur’s serve five times in seven attempts. He outpointed the Australian 58-40.

“I can be very happy to be in the next round,” the five-time ATP Tour titlist Sinner said during an on-court interview after his milestone victory. “Let’s hope for some more [wins].”

Next, Sinner will play No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who eliminated No. 39 Cristian Garin of Chile, 6-3, 6-0, in just 68 minutes Wednesday evening on Stadium 3.

Around La Caja Mágica

• World No. 11 and ninth seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain went the distance and withstood 29 services aces from his opponent, American John Isner, to win 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in two hours and 16 minutes to advance to Thursday’s third round against No. 7 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

Norrie countered with eight aces and broke the No. 23 Isner’s serve three times. The Briton won 78 percent (53 of 68) of his first-serve points and outpointed Isner 108-94.

• Great Britain’s Dan Evans rallied from 3-5 down in the final set and pulled out a third-set tie break to beat No. 17 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (2), in just under three hours on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium to advance to Thursday’s third round.

The 36th-ranked Evans struck 40 winners to 20 unforced errors and converted three of nine break-point opportunities against the World No. 19 Bautista Agut. The Spaniard countered with 35 winners but made 36 unforced errors. Evans outpointed his opponent 113-96 and advanced to face World No. 8 and sixth seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, who made the main draw as a 77th-ranked qualifier, upset World No. 7 and fifth seed Casper Ruud of Norway, 7-6 (7), 2-6, 6-4. It was just the seventh win of the season for Lajovic and the first one in four tries against Ruud. He broke Ruud for only the second time during the two-hour and 18-minute match on Stadium 3 on his second match-point opportunity to put away the victory. The Norwegian had previously been a semifinalist in all three of the Masters 1000 clay events (Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome).

Next, Lajovic will face No. 12 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who pulled out a dramatic 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) victory over Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Stadium 3 in back of 11 aces and 40 winners. The World No. 14 Hurkacz outpointed the No. 29 Davidovich Fokina 106-100 and secured victory on his second match point after squandering the first one in the 10th game of the third set.

• Other winners: No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria upset No. 13 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-0, 6-3, to advance against No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. The World No. 5 needed just 67 minutes to beat 174th-ranked French wild card Lucas Pouille, 6-3, 6-4, on Manolo Santana Stadium Wednesday night. Tsitsipas hit 18 winners and outpointed Pouille 54-41. The Greek star is 31-6 on clay since the start of last season.

Jabeur’s victory assures there will be a first-time WTA 1000 champion

No. 8 seed Ons Jabeur stunned two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinal round on Manolo Santana Stadium Wednesday afternoon. The victory by the World No. 10 from Tunisia assured that a new Mutua Madrid Open champion will be crowned this Saturday as well as a first-time WTA 1000 titlist.

Jabeur, a master of the drop shot, hit 25 winners and many of the were of the surprise variety that kept the No. 21 Halep off guard and off balance. She also won 78 percent of her first-serve points and converted four of five break-point opportunities. Jabeur outpointed Halep 66-45. Halep, who broke Jabeur only once during the 67 minute match, hit just eight winners and committed 20 unforced errors.

Going into the quarterfinals, Halep was the only past Madrid winner. However, after pulling off the straight-set triumph, Jabeur is into her second career WTA 1000 semifinal and her second semifinal in her past three tournaments, following up on her run to the finals at Charleston last month. It’s also her first completed win over Halep in four tries after winning against Halep by retirement at Beijing in 2018. The Romanian had won their two previous meetings, both at Dubai, in 2020 and 2022.

“I feel so much better in Madrid,” Jabeur said during her on-court interview. “It’s never easy to play against Simona. She’s really a great champion a former World No. 1 and Grand Slam champion. This time, I was more aggressive, physically much better on the court.

“My drop shot helped me win a lot of points. I’m happy with my attitude today. Hopefully, we can continue with this level.”

Jabeur, who is 10-2 on clay this season, will face an unseeded challenger in Thursday’s semifinals – No. 45 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who beat No. 33 Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 6-4, 6-3, to reach her first WTA 1000 semifinal. It was Alexandrova’s 10th career quarterfinal win and she became just the third qualifier to reach the Madrid semifinals in the tournament’s history.

Behind Alexandrova’s 19 winners, the victory over Anisimova improved her record on clay (including her Madrid qualifying matches) to 11-2. She benefited from eight double faults and 21 unforced errors by Anisimova.

“I didn’t expect [to go from qualifying to semifinals],” Alexandrova said in her on-court interview. “In previous years, I hadn’t played well here. So, this year, it’s special and amazing.”

• In the upper half of the women’s draw, Barcelona-born Jil Teichmann of Switzerland won a battle of unseeded players with her 6-3, 6-4 victory over Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine on Arantxa Sanchez Stadium in an hour and a half. The 35th-ranked Teichmann parlayed her serve-and-volley style to rack up 17 winners and five breaks of No. 37 Kalinina’s serve. She outpointed the Ukrainian 63-50 to advance against No. 12 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States.

The 14th-ranked Pegula defeated No. 47 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 47 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium to reach her second straight WTA 1000 semifinal. The Buffalo, N.Y. native hit 31 winners and broke Sorribes Tormo’s serve eight times. She outpointed the Spaniard 74-57.

Wednesday’s Mutua Madrid Open ATP results

Wednesday’s Mutua Madrid Open WTA results

Thursday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play

By the numbers

World No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany has won his last seven meetings with former World No. 3 Marin Cilic of Croatia, including twice in Madrid. Zverev is 16-2 lifetime at the Mutua Madrid Open, winning titles in 2018 and 2021.

“Quotable …”

“Generally, I think the city of Madrid has something very special about it. Every time I come to Spain, I really like the ambiance and the way people think and behave.”

– World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, as quoted by the ATP Tour website.