July 16, 2024
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal will face Jiri Lehecka for a spot in the Madrid Open quarter-final.
Jiri Lehecka is ready to put an end to Rafael Nadal’s fairytale run at the Madrid Open. The 30th seed will face the five-time champion in the round of 16 and he made a defiant statement ahead of the match, declaring himself the favourite and explaining why it was wrong to be scared. Nadal recently lost a practice match to Lehecka and the Czech star is bidding to repeat that result on Tuesday night.

Against all odds, Rafael Nadal has made it to the last 16 at the Madrid Open. Only three weeks ago, he said he was losing to kids at his Mallorcan academy and couldn’t serve.

But playing in just his third tournament of the year, the 37-year-old has won three matches in a row and upset world No. 11 Alex De Minaur in the second round. He will now try to oust another seed in Tuesday’s match as he takes on Lehecka.

So far, it has appeared that all of Nadal’s opponents have been overwhelmed by the occasion of playing the 22-time Major winner in his final appearance in his home tournament. Even De Minaur admitted that he was weighed down by pressure. But Lehecka is taking a different approach as he looks to put an end to the Spaniard’s run.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal is through to the round of 16 in Madrid (Image: Getty)

“He’s 600 in the world so I should be the favourite,” the world No. 31 laughed, previewing the match. “If I’d go on court scared about what is happening, then I don’t really need to go there. This is something I’m trying to get away from my mind.”

Although Lehecka is well aware that clay is Nadal’s best surface, he also noted that the former world No. 1 struggled more in Madrid, where the altitude plays a part in the conditions. He continued: “But we know it’s Rafa and it’s clay.

“I also know I do have the level to play very good tennis this week, and these conditions are one of the worst for his claycourt tennis. I’ll go on the court like I’m going to win and I will try to show my best tennis.”

Jiri Lehecka is the 30th seed in Madrid (Image: Getty)

Lehecka and Nadal played a practice match ahead of the tournament which the Czech star won in straight sets. But the 22-year-old believes it will have no bearing on the real thing. “When we practised, it was windy, a smaller court. We were both trying to find our rhythm again,” he explained.

“And it was just practice so it’s totally different. With Rafa, it’s a big difference between practice and when he gets the big court with all the fans supporting him. But definitely, he has improved his game since.”

Lehecka also has something of a secret weapon in his corner as he is coached by former world No. 4 Tomas Berdych, who beat Nadal four times – including once at the 2006 Madrid Open. Although Berdych isn’t in Spain this week, he will be in contact with his charge.

The 22-year-old added: “He had some good results on clay and here, especially on that blue clay, and he will for sure have something to say about the way I should play against him. We’re in touch.”

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