Madrid, May 6 (EFE).- World No. 2 Rafael Nadal struggled with the fast conditions Thursday at the Madrid Open but still notched a relatively straight-forward 6-3, 6-3 victory over promising young Australian Alexei Popyrin.
Like he did in his opening match against his countryman, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish great raced out to early leads in each set by dominating the clay-court baseline exchanges.
Nadal grabbed a 4-1 advantage before Popyrin hit back with a service break of his own to narrow the gap to 4-3. But the five-time Madrid Open champion then put his foot on the accelerator again to grab the first set in 43 minutes.
A quick 3-0 lead in the second set effectively ended the hopes of Popyrin, who won his last three service games to make the final score more respectable.
“It was difficult. The court today was slippery, it was very fast, very dry conditions. The ball was flying a lot. The beginning of the match was super tough,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said after booking his place in the quarterfinals. “He was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. Very happy with the victory. It was an important victory, he came here playing well. Every match is tough.”
Next up for Nadal in the quarterfinals will be Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who topped Great Britain’s Daniel Evans 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).
In other men’s singles round-of-16 action on Thursday, unseeded Norwegian Casper Ruud pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament so far by ousting the red-hot world No. 5, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
Chile’s Cristian Garin also sprung a surprise at this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event by defeating third-ranked Russian Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, while the fast conditions worked in favor of big-serving American John Isner in his 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) upset of seventh-ranked Russian Andrey Rublev.
In women’s semifinal action, Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty extended her current winning streak on red clay to 16 matches by defeating 62nd-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa, who had upset Barty last month in Charleston, South Carolina.
Barty was much more patient on Thursday in the baseline rallies and effectively used her wide variety of shot on the backhand side and potent forehand to carve out a 6-4, 6-3 victory in front of a highly partisan crowd.
She will likely have her hands full though in Saturday’s final of this WTA 1000 event against seventh-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who has been ruthlessly powering her way through the draw and on Thursday dismissed Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3.
Sabalenka will be out for revenge after losing to Barty in three sets in the Stuttgart Open final, also played on red clay, two weeks ago.
The Belarusian is still seeking her first clay-court title, while Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, is quickly building an impressive resume on what she still regards as her least favorite surface. EFE