Rafael Nadal put in one of the most error-filled performances of his claycourt career in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Friday, losing to fifth seed Alexander Zverev in straight sets. Nadal struggled with the conditions at the Caja Magica and even squandered a first-set lead before allowing Zverev to run away with the match.
Alexander Zverev found himself down 2-4 early on, but was helped by an uncharacteristic forehand error by Rafael Nadal in breaking back. The 24-year-old never looked back from there, taking full control of the match with a power-packed display to advance to the last four.
Speaking to the media after the shock loss, Rafael Nadal didn't sound pleased with his game whatsoever. The Spaniard went so far as to suggest that he had taken a backwards step during his short-lived Madrid campaign, and insisted that had made serious lapses in judgment on all the big points.
"The feelings are negative. This is an important week for me," Nadal said. "It is a week that makes me excited although it is a complicated tournament for me due to the conditions. These days I have taken steps forward and this is one backward. Things started well but in the important moments, in the moments that I had to define the set, I have done everything wrong."
Rafael Nadal was sharply critical of his own play during the presser, pointing out that he made a few costly mistakes while leading by a break in the first set. He even claimed that he suffered serious lapses in judgment on all the big points in the match.
"When serving for 5-2, I made several mistakes, and afterwards, at 4-3 I had a break point and missed the forehand down-the-line," Nadal said. "This is the summary and the key of the match. In the important moments, I've done everything wrong."
When asked to give the key takeaways from his loss, the Spaniard asserted that he was not comfortable with the heavier conditions in Madrid. He did, however, praise Zverev for how he weathered the same conditions to beat him.
"From that point on, I was playing against a great player, under conditions that perhaps are more favorable to him," Nadal said. "And I didn't have enough, that's the truth."
"He is to be congratulated and I am obviously sad about the defeat," Nadal added. "This has been a missed opportunity,"
"Sometimes when you're climbing the stairs, you can take a step backwards" - Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal had earlier been upset by Andrey Rublev at the Monte Carlo Masters, but a week later had triumphed at the Barcelona Open for a record-extending 12th time. During his presser on Friday Nadal talked about how he had done himself no favors by losing at Madrid in the manner that he had, and that too at such a critical juncture of the clay season.
Rafael Nadal believes he has failed to build upon the momentum of his Barcelona win, and he gave the analogy of a staircase to illustrate his sentiment. The 34-year-old did, however, admit that he had been playing at a good level before his quarterfinal match against Zverev.
"I've taken steps forward, but sometimes when you're climbing the stairs, you can take a step backwards and I think that's what has happened today," Nadal said. "During the week I've been doing everything well, both on the practice courts and in the matches."