King Of Clay Nadal Also Becoming King Of Comebacks In Madrid

Rafael Nadal (photo: ATP Tour video)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal’s back from the brink of defeat third-round victory Thursday afternoon in the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Mágica was not just a thriller. It was also a milestone win for the King of Clay, who is fast becoming the king of comebacks, too.

The five-time Madrid champion Nadal recorded his 1,050th victory of his storied career after saving four match points to defeat 60th-ranked qualifier David Goffin of Belgium, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (9), which lasted three hours and nine minutes.

“Long live the king!” Tennis Channel commentator Brett Haber expressed after Nadal had secured his second victory in two days in the Spanish capital city.

Although Nadal let slip two match points in the second set – and it took 80 more minutes until he gained match points in the third set – this time he wasn’t going to throw away his shot. In the end, the resilient Nadal came away with another Madrid victory – and his pursuit of a sixth Mutua Madrid Open title remained real. The outcome delighted the partisan Spanish crowd that packed Manolo Santana Stadium for the afternoon matinee starring their matinee idol.

“I think I have the ability to be humble enough to accept that things are not going to be perfect,” the 35-year-old from Mallorca said in press earlier this week in Madrid.

A winner of 21 career major titles, including 13 French Open crowns on clay, Nadal understands the difficulty of comebacks. His latest has come this week in Madrid after being sidelined for six weeks while recovering from a fractured rib he suffered at the BNP Paribas Open final in Indian Wells two months ago. Earlier this year in Australia, he came back from a foot injury that sidelined him since last August.

“When you come back from a period of not playing, it’s tough,” he said. “For me, it’s also tough. I believe that it’s as hard for me as for the rest of the players, but it’s true that during my career I have been able to come back from really complicated moments.”

Nadal said he knows and accepts that there are going to be errors and “just look forward with excitement and determination.”

After winning his first match back, 6-1, 7-6 (4) against No. 32 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia on Wednesday, Nadal admitted: “I need to stay positive. I need to play with the right attitude, and take every single match that I’m able to win like a present to play another time here.”

Speaking after his victory over Goffin, Nadal said: “For me today, in some ways, it has been an inspiration in the way I have been fighting all my tennis career.

“Honestly, it was a very tough match. I think I played at a very high level. But at the same time, I am not completely happy because I have to finish the match in straight sets, without a doubt.”

Nadal added: “Three hours and 10 [minutes] on court, that helps to increase my physical performance. A very important victory, saving match points. That’s confidence, that gives me the chance to keep going. I need matches and I need a day like today to be fitter sooner.”

Nadal-Alcaraz: A new Spanish rivalry?

Meanwhile, Nadal’s latest triumph advanced him to Friday’s quarterfinal round against newly-turned 19-year-old Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who scored his own victory, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 over No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain Thursday evening. The seventh seed Alcaraz, who is in hot pursuit of his second ATP Masters 1000 crown this season and of his career, celebrated his win with a birthday cake on court and was serenaded by fans singing “Felix Cumpleaños.”

The Nadal-Alcaraz clash will be the third time the two Spaniards have met with Nadal owning victories in both, including last year’s Mutua Madrid Open when Alcaraz celebrated turning 18 and was a 120th-rranked wild card. This time, Alcaraz is playing in his first tournament ranked in the Top 10 and is seeded seventh.

“I lost twice against him and I wanted to play against him the third time,” Alcaraz said after advancing to his third Masters 1000 quarterfinal. “I think it’s going to be different from last year and the last match that we played [in Indian Wells]. I’m excited to play against Rafa here in Madrid in front of the Spanish crowd. It’s going to be a great day and a great match.”

By the numbers

Not lost on tennis historians is this: Rafael Nadal’s latest victory also advanced him to the 99th Masters 1000 quarterfinal of his career, extending his own record. Nadal has now reached the quarterfinals or better at 99 of the 125 Masters 1000 events he’s played in, a remarkable 79.2 percent clip.