Madrid, May 7 (EFE).- Germany’s Alexander Zverev found some chinks in the armor of five-time champion Rafael Nadal on Friday at the Madrid Open, pulling off a 6-4, 6-4 victory to book a place in that elite clay-court event’s final four.
Although the Spanish all-time great had struggled to an extent with the fast conditions at the Caja Magica in his previous match, he appeared in total control when he broke the sixth-ranked German’s serve for a 4-2 first-set lead.
But the 2018 Madrid Open champion got back on serve thanks to a pair of passing shot winners, took a 5-4 lead when Nadal double faulted and then committed an unforced error on break point, and clinched the set in his first opportunity with some potent serving in Madrid’s thin air.
Nadal was making more mistakes than usual and was oddly punch-less on the forehand side, failing to produce a single winner with his favorite shot through the first 12 games of the contest.
Zverev, meanwhile, capitalized on his golden opportunity against the out-of-sorts 13-time Roland Garros champion, breaking for a 3-2 advantage in the second set and then creating two more break opportunities two games later.
Although Nadal overcame some serving difficulties to escape that hole, the German comfortably wrapped up the victory with some more strong serving in the final game to clinch his first-ever clay-court victory against the Spaniard.
Afterward, the world No. 2 rued his unforced errors on big points and said he was leaving Madrid with the “ugly feeling of having played a match like this today against a great player.”
He added that he will now look to bounce back and win next week’s Rome Masters as he finalizes his Roland Garros preparations.
Zverev, for his part, said the extreme difficulty of beating Nadal on clay makes the victory one of the biggest of his career but that he now needs to shift his focus to the semifinals.
The German will next take on Austrian world No. 4 Dominic Thiem, who is trying to find some rhythm this week after having taken nearly two months off to recharge his batteries.
Thiem, who rallied to defeat 2.08-meter (6-foot-10) American John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday, will be facing a big server for the second straight match when he takes on Zverev.
It will be their first meeting since Thiem edged the German in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the 2020 US Open final to capture his maiden Grand Slam title.
The other Madrid Open semifinal will pit Norway’s Casper Ruud against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.
Ruud, who upset Greek world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier in the week, cruised past Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 7-5, 6-1 in Friday’s quarterfinals.
In the day’s final men’s singles match, Berrettini booked his place in the tournament’s final four when he rallied to defeat Chile’s Cristian Garin 5-7, 6-3, 6-0.
The Madrid Masters is one of the biggest clay-court events of the year for both the men and women and a key tune-up for tennis’ most prestigious event on that surface, the French Open, which gets under way on May 30. EFE