Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button
NewsScoresRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastShopPro GearPickleballGear Sale

By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday April 30, 2024


Rafael Nadal fell to Jiri Lehecka in his last Madrid match, and bid an emotional farewell to fans after it was over.

Photo Source: Getty

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place as a packed house celebrated Nadal’s last ever encounter at the Madrid Open on Tuesday night. The sun has set on a brilliant part of Rafael Nadal’s career, but it’s not all over yet.

Tennis Express

There will be more tennis from the great Spaniard in 2024, but watching him say goodbye to the Spanish capital drove home the fact that Nadal – even as his form improves this spring – has numbered days on tour.

The 37-year-old Spaniard fell in straight sets to talented 22-year-old Jiri Lehecka, losing a hard fought 7-5, 6-4 decision in which he demonstrated more impressive form (but not enough to tame the rising young Czech), and the vibe was positive as the 22-time major and five-time Madrid champion bid the faithful farewell.

In a beautiful post-match ceremony Nadal addressed the crowd as his wife Maria Francisca and his sister Maria Isabel shed tears. They weren’t the only ones. Nadal’s journey to Madrid was a hopeful one, featuring three consecutive wins and a considerable step-up in quality, but the hope is backdropped by a setting sun and the imminent conclusion to the career of one of the most stunning and legendary athletes to ever wield a racquet.

It’s hard to accept, both for his legions of fans, and his peers within the sport. For two decades the Mallorcan has been a pillar on the circuit, a role model that many regard as the fiercest fighter that the sport has ever seen. To see him now in the waning days of his journey hammers home the reality of the situation. With 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer’s career done and dusted, it is now Nadal’s turn to yield to undefeated Father Time.

He will go to Rome first, then hopefully Roland-Garros, where the hopes are that he will turn back the clock one final time. Then a summer of unknowns, likely ending sometime this fall.

For now, Nadal embraces the challenges with an air of acceptance.

He talks down his chances, admitting that he doesn’t know if his body will pass the tests that it needs to pass for him to return to the swashbuckling form that has made him the most dominant player to ever step foot on the red clay. But at the same time, he says he has the game to compete at the top level – provided that his body allows it.

"Have been a positive week in all ways," Nadal told reporters in his post-match press conference. "I said it in Spanish, but it's true in terms of body feelings, I was able to play four matches, a couple of tough matches, and the body, some muscles are tired now.

"I felt that on the match. But it held well. So have been a very positive match, winning three matches, playing four matches at the high level of tennis. I enjoyed a lot playing at home. I leave here with very positive energy in all ways."

Today Nadal demonstrated that high level he spoke of at times, but ultimately couldn’t match up to Lehecka’s heavy artillery. Still, it’s a step in the right direction. With four more weeks until Roland-Garros begins, there is time for Nadal to be not just better – but a lot better.

"I am gonna try to play in Rome," he said. "That's another very special tournament in my career, no? I think, I don't know, I won 10? So, yeah, a lot of emotions there too. My dream is to play all these tournaments that I had success one more time, no?

"I missed Monte-Carlo unfortunately, that is one of the most special for me, but Rome is one of these ones that I enjoyed a lot playing there. So I want to go there. I gonna try. And I want to play well there. I want to play well. I want to be competitive. I want to give myself a chance to play good tennis, and I gonna keep working hard to try to make that happen."

Now it is time to embrace the hope and the sadness in one fell swoop. To take pleasure in Nadal’s participation in one last clay season, and to recognize that any time he takes the court this season, it can be at last.

Sadness today, but in the long-term, joy and gratitude, that we ever got to witness Nadal in all his glory, and that we still can enjoy him today, even if that greatness has been eroded over time.


Latest News