Rafael Nadal on Thursday got through another young opponent and showed signs he was getting closer to his best form on clay as he defeated Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-3 to make it to the Madrid Open quarter-finals.
Nadal overcame eight aces and saved five break points against the Australian. The five-time Madrid champion cruised past Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the second round on Wednesday.
“There is a lot of young, good players. [It’s] something normal that is happening,” said Nadal, who at 34 is 13 years older than Popyrin. “And, yeah, I’m excited that at my age I am able to keep playing against all of them. They are good. They are talented. They have a great future. For me it’s amazing to be where I am with my age competing with them still.”
Nadal struggled at times against the aggressive style of world No. 76 Popyrin, but was able to stay in control for most of the match.
“I knew he was coming with confidence, he has this energy that the young players have,” Nadal said. “From what I could do, it was a good match, and I’m happy to make it to the quarter-finals again here.”
Nadal next faces fifth seed Alexander Zverev, who defeated Daniel Evans 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).
The German world No. 6 has won his past two matches against Nadal, though none were on clay.
World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev lost to Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 6-1.
The Chilean next faces eighth seed Matteo Berrettini, who beat Federico Delbonis 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
Earlier, US Open champion Dominic Thiem reached the last eight by defeating Alex de Minaur of Australia 7-6 (9/7), 6-4.
The third seed is playing in his first tournament since taking a few weeks off after a slow start to his year.
“There were some good, long rallies. I was many, many times out of breath,” Thiem said. “It was perfect for me to get back a little bit the match rhythm, to run down a lot of balls.”
Thiem’s opponent in the quarter-finals is John Isner, who used 29 aces to defeat sixth seed Andrey Rublev 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 7-6 (7/4).
“To be honest, Andrey was the best player,” Isner said. “My serve kept me in the match. It’s been like that a lot throughout my career.”
Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost to Nadal in the Barcelona final, fell 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 to Norwegian Casper Rudd, who was coming off consecutive semi-final appearances in Munich and Monte Carlo.
“I’m feeling good, especially here in Europe on the clay. It was a part of the season last year that I was looking extremely much forward to and unluckily it was kind of taken away from all the players,” world No. 22 Ruud said. “This was one of the tournaments that we didn’t get to play last year, so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get.”
Ruud’s next faces Alexander Bublik, who defeated Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 6-3.
In the women’s singles final, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty faces fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3.
Barty cruised into the final with a 6-4, 6-3 win over wild-card Paula Badosa, the first Spanish woman to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.
“I know it’s been a big tournament for her, she’s played an exceptional level of tennis,” Barty said. “She served particularly well, being able to control the court with her forehand. I think that was a challenge today.”
Barty has won 16 straight matches on clay and will be playing her fourth final this year, having won the previous three.
US Open champion Emma Raducanu’s grandmother Niculina Raducanu wanted her to quit tennis because of concern about the teen’s health after breathing difficulties forced her to retire from Wimbledon this year. The 88-year-old Romanian told the Daily Mail that her granddaughter’s “health is more important” than wealth or fame. Fortunately for the 18-year-old Briton, neither her father, Ian Raducanu — Niculina Raducanu’s son — nor her Chinese mother, Renee Raducanu, took the advice and she swept through the US Open to become the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title. Niculina Raducanu — known to Emma as “Mamiya,” a Romanian term of
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