It was a match between two #MMOPEN champions. On one side of the net, five-time champion Rafa Nadal. On the other, the 2018 king of the Caja Mágica, Alexander Zverev. In the end it was the world number 6 who came out on top of the biggest challenge on clay, beating the Spaniard 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 44 minutes of play.
At 24 years of age, Zverev will now be bidding for a place in his second final against Dominic Thiem, his opponent in the title match two years ago. The German has also reduced the deficit in his head-to-head with Nadal, a player he has now beaten in their last three encounters, this being the first time on clay (3-5). A revealing stat: Zverev fired 28 winners in the match to Nadal’s 6.
Zverev knew that he was facing a huge challenge and he said so in the build-up: “Playing Rafa on clay is one of the most difficult things, I especially think that in Spain it is the most difficult task you can have”.
Zverev demonstrated his solidity in the first set. With both players holding their serve early in the match, Nadal struck first, breaking the German’s serve. From there the player from Hamburg, who could have crumbled, responded by stringing together four games to take the first set.
In the second, employing his lethal backhand and a very aggressive return of serve, Zverev broke the Mutua Madrid Open’s first seed once again in the fifth game. That break proved enough for the German to seal his passage to the semi-finals, where he will meet a Thiem who had to come back against John Isner for his place in the penultimate round.
Zverev’s thoughts after the match
His momentum. “There are weeks like that. I feel like I played well in the beginning of the year, then injuries happened. But I feel like I’m going to go back to the right path. I’m doing a good job of that. I hope I can continue playing the way I played in the next matches.”
Beating Rafa on clay. “To beat Rafa on a clay court in Spain, you have to play your best. I’m extremely happy to have done that.”
Thiem, his next opponent. “It’s not going to get easier. Dominic is also a great player. I got to respect that. I got to respect the fights that we’ve had with him in the past few matches, hopefully I will be able to go to another Madrid final.”
Did you know…?
Zverev has 14 titles under his belt, three of them from ATP Masters 1000s.