No fairytale ending for Nadal at Madrid Open

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal leaves court after losing to Jiri Lehecka. Photo: Reuters/Susana Vera

Twenty-two time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal fell 7-5, 6-4 to Czech Jiri Lehecka in the fourth round of the Madrid Open on Tuesday, marking his final appearance at a tournament he has won five times.

In just over two hours, a feisty Lehecka thwarted Nadal's hopes of reaching his 100th Masters 1000 quarterfinals after a fairytale run in only his second tournament since January as the Spaniard struggled with injury.

Nadal has said he expects to retire after the 2024 season.

"I'm happy. It was a very special week for me, very positive in every way. I was able to play again on a court that has given me a lot, also on an emotional level," the 37-year-old Nadal said in an on-court interview in front of an emotional crowd.

"It has been unforgettable, and I can only say 'thank you'. It has been an incredible journey. It's very difficult, but life and my body have been sending signals to me for a long time.

"I have been fortunate to turn my passion into my job. I am privileged," he said before organisers honoured him with a trophy and unfurled banners paying tribute to his five Madrid titles.

With the score level at 5-5 in the first set, 30th seed Lehecka broke serve and then held his own to take the lead.

Breaking again in the first game of the second set, the 22-year-old secured the win to reach the quarterfinals, where he will face Russian third seed Daniil Medvedev on Thursday.

"It's amazing. For me to share the court with such a legendary player is a dream come true. I always wished to have this happen. I'm very grateful to achieve such a big moment," Lehecka said.

"All the best to Rafa. It's kind of bittersweet to have such a nice win in front of all these people cheering for him. The energy was amazing, it was like I was in another universe. This was something I've never experienced before in my life on a tennis court."

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