Published: 10:36, May 1, 2024
Nadal bids farewell to Madrid after defeat by Lehecka
By Reuters
Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures after losing against Czech Republic's Jiri Lehecka during the 2024 ATP Tour Madrid Open tournament round of 16 tennis match at Caja Magica in Madrid on April 30, 2024. (PHOTO / AFP)

Twenty-two time Grand Slam champion Rafa 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 quarter-final 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.

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"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.

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"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.

READ MORE: Nadal excited by prospect of partnering Alcaraz at Paris Olympics

Breaking again in the first game of the second set, the 22-year-old secured the win to reach the quarter-finals, 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."