Last year, Rafael Nadal played the young Australian Alexei Popyrin in the third round as he sought to win the Madrid Open for the first time since 2017. Since it was their first encounter, Alexei was prepared to confront the 20-time Major champion and play his best tennis.
Before Nadal regained his composure, Popyrin won the first seven points to demonstrate his tenacity. Rafa won 6-3, 6-3 in 79 minutes to go to the quarterfinals. Recalling the game, Alexei claimed that Rafa switched up his strategy after dropping the first seven points, focusing on his backhand and taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves.
Popyrin maintained his aggressiveness throughout, scoring 20 victories and making the same number of unforced errors. Rafa was also standing on an 11:15 ratio. With his initial shot, the Spaniard caused more damage and maintained control of the tempo over the close- and medium-range rallies.
In the first set, Nadal saved five of six break points and broke Popyrin’s service four times to advance. In order to gather momentum, the Australian held at love in the first game and generated three break chances in the following one.
To prevent a losing start, Nadal repelled them and won the game with a serve. In game three, Alexei lost a little ground and committed a double fault, which caused him to lose. With yet another strong serve, Rafa held at 30 to establish a 3-1 lead and find a comfortable groove.
In the fifth game, the youthful player sprayed a backhand error that caused another break before settling into his return and cutting the lead to 4-2. At 5-3, Nadal made another break to finish the opening set in 42 minutes.
Rafael Nadal defeated Alexei Popyrin in the third round of the Madrid Open the previous year.
The Spaniard started the second set with a forehand down the line winner and added another in game two to break at love. With a service winner in game three and a flawless backhand crosscourt winner to secure a 4-1 victory, Nadal solidified his advantage.
After that first break, Alexei served well and earned brilliant holds in games 4, 6, and 8 to stay within one break of the lead. Rafa won the seventh game with a strong forehand and advanced to the quarterfinals for the 11th time at Caja Magica with a hold at 15 to win the match at 5-3.
“Rafa made no noteworthy plays during the game. I made blunders in the midst of the first set because I believed I needed to perform more than I actually did. He received the match as a present, but I put this down to experience. He is one of the best of all time, therefore I will take something from it.
Rafa completely changed his strategy after I won the opening seven points, playing loopy balls to the backhand and putting pressure on me, which was successful for him. The next time we play, I won’t fall for that trap; instead, I’ll concentrate on my tasks and try to avoid throwing him off the court with each shot. I discovered that I shouldn’t be afraid to support him, “said Alexei Popyrin.