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Zverev Topples Top-Seeded Nadal, Will Play Thiem in Madrid Semifinals

Alexander Zverev rallied from 2-4 down winning 10 of the last 14 games to topple Rafa Nadal 6-4, 6-4 and surge into the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals. EPA-EFE/RODRIGO JIMENEZ

Sporting a sleeveless shirt, Alexander Zverev disarmed king of clay Rafael Nadal on his home court with stunning conviction.

Beating Nadal to the punch with his forehand and pounding any short returns he saw, Zverev rallied from 2-4 down flying through 10 of the final 14 games sweeping the top-seeded Spaniard 6-4, 6-4 to charge into the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals.

It was Zverev’s third straight win over Nadal, who was forced into defensive positions behind the baseline by the German’s flat drives.

“It helped that I’ve beaten him the last few times that we played,” said Zverev, who has now swept six sets in a row from Nadal, including indoor wins at the 2019 ATP Finals and 2020 Rolex Paris Masters. “Of course it’s on hard court, which is very different.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. To beat Rafa on a clay court in Spain, you have to play your best. I’m extremely happy to have done that. Yeah, we’ll see what the next few matches hold for me.”

Rafael Nadal has suffered three consecutive straight-sets losses to Alexander Zverev. EPA-EFE/Rodrigo Jimenez

Obviously, it’s a surprising result given five-time champion Nadal was coming off his 61st career clay-court crown in Barcelona, had the massive backing of the Spanish fans on the largest tennis stadium in his nation and carried a mind-blowing 454-41 career clay-court record into this match.

None of that mattered much to Zverev who exploited a sloppy seventh game from the Spaniard, elevated his intensity after Nadal challenged his serve in the eighth game and actually out-hit Nadal in forehand exchanges for much of the final set and a half. Zverev scored his third consecutive straight-sets win over Nadal.

“I had the match under control at the beginning, playing well for six games, probably playing better than him,” Nadal said. “Then in the 4-2 serving for 5-2, I did a disaster. Another bad game with my game with 30-Love.

“Of course, playing against one of the best players of the world, under this circumstances, with this speed of the court, is very difficult to still confident. So, yeah, I tried. But is true that the serve was difficult to control today. Yeah, well done for him.”

The high altitude and fast pace of the Madrid court left Nadal lunging, shaking his head and muttering to himself at times trying to catch up to the depth and pace of Zverev’s drives. The Acapulco champion converted three of six break points, including breaking twice in a row in the opening set, improving to 13-2 in Madrid. 

2018 Madrid champion Alexander Zverev shakes Rafael Nadal’s hand after knocking the five-time champion out of Madrid. EPA-EFE/Rodrigo Jimenez

While Nadal was not nearly at his best, credit Zverev for taking the racquet out of the 13-time Roland Garros champion’s hands, dictating play with his fierce forehand and more aggressive court positioning and treating Nadal’s short returns with sheer disdain.

It all added up to Zverev’s third consecutive straight-sets win over Nadal sending the 2018 Madrid champion into a blockbuster clash vs. Dominic Thiem that’s a rematch of the wild and crazy 2020 US Open final. Zverev held a two-set lead then went up in the fifth set only to see Thiem rally and capture his maiden major in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Thiem joined legendary Hall of Famer Pancho Gonzales becoming just the second man in history to win a US Open final after trailing by two sets.

Rapping a forehand winner down the line gave Zverev double match point against Nadal. He blasted a backhand crosscourt drawing a netted return and erupting in a triumphant shout scoring his third straight-sets win over the 20-time Grand Slam champion in one hour, 44 minutes.

“I feel like I’m going to go back to the right path. I’m doing a good job of that,” Zverev said. “Hope I can continue playing the way I played in the next matches.

“Yeah, it’s not going to get easier. Dominic is also a great player. I got to respect that. I got to respect the fights that we’ve had with him in the past few matches, hopefully be able to go to another Madrid final.”