June 21, 2024
Rafael Nadal

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts during his round of 16 match against Czech Republic's Jiri Lehecka (REUTERS)

There was hardly a dry eye at the Manolo Santana stadium when the tennis legend Rafael Nadal waved an emotional farewell to fans at the Madrid Open, the ATP Masters 1000 that he won five times during his celebrated career, and said the memories of playing in front of Spanish fans in Madrid will stay with him forever.

Rafael Nadal was presented with five banners commemorating the titles he won over ten years between 2008 and 2017 and a special trophy from tournament director Felicano Lopez after losing his fourth-round match to Jiri Lehecka shortly after midnight under a closed roof on the Caja Magica. This only served to amplify the fervent cheers of Spanish fans during the two-hour battle.

What meant most to the 37-year-old, 36-time ATP Masters 1000 champion was the heartfelt applause of his fans and the tears shed by family members in his players’ box.

Reflecting on his farewell, Nadal expressed mixed emotions, stating that a few weeks ago he didn’t know if he would compete in an official match again.

“It’s been a very special week for me, very positive in many ways, both personally and for my tennis. I had the chance to play again on the court. A few weeks ago, two days before Barcelona, I didn’t know if I would compete in an official match again and I’ve now played for two weeks. It’s been unforgettable,” Nadal said on the court as quoted by ATP.

“The only thing I can say is ‘thank you’. It’s been an incredible journey that started when I was little. I came to Madrid for the first time in 2003, when the tournament was played indoors. The first time I came here feeling competitive was in 2005. It was one of the most exciting wins of my career, still indoors. Ever since the support has been unconditional from everyone. I cannot thank you enough,” he added.

In an attempt to reach his 100th ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, Rafael Nadal looked up at the unfolded banners commemorating his five victories from 2008, ’10, ’13-’14, and ’17, which made him think about the length of his career.

“Looking at the pictures [on the banners], some of them seem like they were a lifetime ago. All I can do is thank everyone who has helped me in my career. Even though it’s not over, this is the last time I’ll be in Madrid. You have given me a gift for the last 21 years that’s more significant than any Grand Slam I have won. The emotions of playing in Madrid, in front of the Spanish fans, is something that will stay with me forever,” said the Spaniard.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do a hobby as my job, and to do it exceptionally well. I feel so lucky to have had all these experiences. I couldn’t ask for more. I hope I’ve set a positive example for the new generations. That’s the most important thing. Titles and sporting moments are exciting,” he added.

Nadal expressed gratitude for the memories the game and the supporters had provided him over the years. His attention now shifts to the Olympics (where he has hinted at doubles run with Carlos Alcaraz), the Laver Cup, Roland Garros (assuming he thinks his body can handle the rigours of five-set tennis), and the Masters 1000 in Rome next week.

“Sport generates excitement and emotion. I have experienced it as a fan. From what I can see, I hope that I’ve created excitement and emotion for all of you. The only thing I can say is ‘thank you’. That’s all I can say. That’s how I feel. It was one of those days that are difficult when they arrive. I think that life and my body have been sending me messages for some time that this day had to come,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky to do it at one of the places that has been the most emotional for me. Thank you. I’d like to thank Feli, Gerard and Jon, and everyone who made it possible for the tournament to be played in Madrid. It’s amazing for all the Spanish players and I’m sure the next generations will continue to enjoy the atmosphere here. Thank you so much everyone for helping me have this moment,” the 37-year-old added. (ANI)

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