APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Nadal grants another wish in Madrid

The vociferous welcome from a packed Manolo Santana Stadium proved to be the prelude to a special afternoon. With a standing ovation that was fitting for the magnitude of his legacy, the Mutua Madrid Open’s centre court handed Rafael Nadal one of the most potent weapons available: a huge demonstration of affection. With the roof on due to rain, the atmosphere on the clay court was amplified even further. “Raafa!, Raafa!, Raafa!”, they boomed from a grandstand replete with flags donning his name and fans from every generation, all united in their admiration for the tournament’s greatest champion. After a huge build-up, the quality of the events on court did nothing to disappoint.

In the last participation of his career in the Caja Mágica, the former world No. 1 came through his first big challenge. Memories of his lacklustre match a week ago in Barcelona did nothing to hold back Nadal, who managed to knock out the Australian Alex de Minaur, one of the top 10 seeds in the main draw, 7-6(6), 6-3. More than the result itself, which was one of his most stunning in recent years, the real merit in the match was what was at stake on the brick dust.

“It was an incredible afternoon”, acknowledged the Spaniard. “Playing here in Madrid with these people is a unique feeling for me. Experiencing another afternoon like that means so much. All I can do is thank everyone for making me feel like this, I enjoyed it so much”.

The  Mallorcan found himself in a battle of endurance against the Antipodean, one of the toughest opponents in the game right now. The world No. 11’s speed around the court, which showed no signs of waning as the match progressed, allowed him to return practically anything the Spaniard could throw at him. Far from being daunted by the scale of the challenge, Nadal put in a performance reminiscent of his early days to produce another win for the ages.

If there was any doubt that Rafa would be going all out for the win, it quickly diminished within the first few points. The Spaniard broke serve at his first attempt and was ahead before he had broken into a sweat. The difference from last week’s game in Barcelona was already clear. Far from the drop-shot battle that proved his undoing in Catalonia, Nadal seemed perfectly content immersing himself in long rallies from the baseline, accepting the pace of play the Australian was laying down and going toe-to-toe with him. After a to-and-fro first set, the Balearic Islander found himself in a tiebreak, where he earned a 6-2 lead before eventually converting to go 1-0 up.

The advantage did nothing to dampen the champion’s intensity, taking another game on his opponent’s serve no sooner had the second set begun. Now in full flow, and with the fans cheering his every move, this time Nadal ensured De Minaur would not have a chance to redress the balance, using his nous to ensure he carried his lead through to victory.

“I played at a good level, I think I did positive things. I’m really happy to be able to be competitive against a great player like Alex. The atmosphere was crazy and I can’t thank the fans enough for their love”.

As Nadal made his way to the locker rooms, he could surely still hear the fans chant his name in the Spanish capital. With one of the most emotional victories in recent memory, the Mallorcan once again demonstrated that the knack he has had throughout his career to do the seemingly impossible is still yet to abandon him.

Above all, Nadal has now opened a door on another opportunity to get more match hours under the belt and recover more of the form and spirit that took him to the top in the first place. On Monday, with an entire city behind him, the Balearic Islander will test himself against the tennis of Argentina’s Pedro Cachín. It will be another unmissable match in the Caja Mágica.

In Madrid, where Nadal is writing the epilogue to his legacy, he has just dipped the pen back in the inkwell.