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Alexander Zverev shocks Rafael Nadal to advance in Madrid stunner
Zverev scored his first clay-court win over the 20-time Grand Slam champion, rallying from an early break down in the opening set to knock out the Spaniard and reach the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.
Published May 07, 2021
Alexander Zverev pulled off the upset of the tournament on Friday, shocking 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 6-4 at his home tournament to advance into the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.
"It's definitely one of the biggest wins of my career thus far," Zverev said in his on-court interview, "especially on clay against Rafa, it's the toughest thing to do in our sport. Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible, but the tournament isn't over yet, and I'm looking forward to playing Dominic [Thiem], who is another great clay-court player."
The top-seeded Nadal rode a seven-match winning streak into the quarterfinals of Madrid, but Zverev, seeded No. 5, kickstarted his clay-court season in a major way against the former world No. 1, advancing into his first Masters 1000 semifinal on the surface since 2018 in one hour and 44 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium.
The rivalry between Nadal and Zverev has taken an unexpected turn in the last two seasons, with the German turning around an 0-5 head-to-head to win their last two meetings in straight sets. Nadal, however, had won their only previous encounters on clay and, fresh off winning a 12th Barcelona title, has appeared eager to win a sixth Madrid title—and a first since 2017—after posting straightforward victories over Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin.
Zverev, by contrast, had arrived to Madrid out of sorts since winning his 14th career title in Acapulco, and failed to win back-to-back matches at his subsequent three tournaments, including the Miami Open and Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
"I played well in the beginning of the year, then injuries happened," Zverev said in press. "But I feel like I'm going to go back to the right path. I'm doing a good job of that. Hope I can continue playing the way I played in the next matches."
Looking more solid at the Caja Mágica, he earned decisive wins against former finalist Kei Nishikori and Monte Carlo semifinalist Daniel Evans to book the meeting with Nadal, who was nonetheless first to break the German and move within two games of the opening set.
Two points from a 2-5 deficit, Zverev leveled the set—saving another break point along the way—and nabbed a second break off Nadal’s serve to reel off five straight games from the first set and into the start of the second.
"I think the forehand break point miss by Rafa at 4-3 really changed the momentum. I kind of got my aggression up a little bit and point by point, I felt well on the court. If I keep feeling like this, I'll be just fine."
For only the third time since 2005, Nadal will head to Rome without a clay-court Masters title (Getty Images).
Nadal agreed with that analysis later in his post-match press conference.
"I had the match under control at the beginning, playing well for six games, probably playing better than him," Nadal said. "Then in the 4-2 game, serving for 5-2, I did a disaster. Another bad game with my game with 30-Love. Of course, playing against one of the best players of the world, under this circumstances, with this speed of the court, is very difficult to still be confident."
Struggling to reclaim the initiative, the top seed soon fell behind once more as the 24-year-old engineered break points that would have seen him serve for the match.
Though the Spaniard gamely saved both to hold on, Zverev showed no signs of weakness on his own serve and held to 15 to seal the upset.
It was undeniably a flat day for the 13-time French Open champion, who hit just six winners in the match to 17 unforced errors. Zverev dictated play far more successfully with 28 winners to 25 unforced errors, and converted three of six break point opportunities while allowing Nadal just one break of his own serve.
Up next for Zverev will be two-time French Open finalist Dominic Thiem, who rallied from a set down to knock out an on-fire John Isner in the first match of the day.
"I know I can do it," Zverev said. "Everyone remembers the US Open final we played. I remember it, and it will be somewhere in the back of my mind when we play tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to the match."
Thiem and Zverev indeed last faced off in the finals in Flushing Meadows, where the Austrian triumphed in a nervy five-setter that saw him capture his first Grand Slam title.