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TENNIS

Madrid Open: Rafa Nadal back on form as Ferrer calls time on career

Rafael Nadal believes he is finding his rhythm again after beginning his bid for a sixth Madrid Open title on Wednesday by beating Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.

Madrid Open: Rafa Nadal back on form as Ferrer calls time on career
Photo: AFP

The victory also came hours before Nadal's fellow Spaniard David Ferrer played the final match of his career, losing 6-4, 6-1 to Alexander Zverev in his last tournament before retirement.

Nadal has endured a turbulent few weeks after slipping to surprise defeats in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona last month before then being hit by a stomach bug on Sunday.

But there was never much sign of an upset in the Spanish capital, where the world number two opened up with a 6-3, 6-3 victory.   

“Right now every victory is important for me because it gives me the option to play again the next day,” Nadal said.   

“Two weeks ago maybe playing again was not a chance to improve because I didn't feel like that in training.

“Now I am feeling better in matches and I think every one gives me the chance to get better.”

Nadal has not arrived in Madrid without winning in either Monte Carlo or Barcelona since 2015 and, after also pulling out of Indian Wells due to a knee injury in March, concern was growing ahead of the French Open later this month.   

The 32-year-old, who will be chasing his 18th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, will now face another young talent in America's Frances Tiafoe, with either Stan Wawrinka or Kei Nishikori waiting in the quarter-finals.

“After Indian Wells, I had a big mental drop,” Nadal said. “I had to stop for two weeks and mentally I dropped.

“I struggled a lot to get fit and recover that energy, which I now feel again.”

Ferrer bowed out after losing to Zverev, calling time on a distinguished career that included 27 ATP titles and a highest ranking of number three in the world.

Renowned for his never-say-die attitude, the 37-year-old reached the French Open final in 2014, as well as five more Grand Slam semi-finals.   

“I couldn't have given more to this sport,” said Ferrer, who left his bandana on the 'T' of the service box.

“I don't know what my legacy will be but I always fought until the last point. Maybe it will be that.”

Nishikori and Wawrinka will meet in the third round on Thursday after Nishikori took just over two hours to win 7-5, 7-5 against Bolivian qualifier Hugo Dellien and Wawrinka defeated Argentina's Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4.

The Swiss has won his last two matches against Nishikori, including a three-set victory in Rotterdam in February, when he went on to reach his first final since undergoing knee surgery in 2017.

Osaka in control

Juan Martin del Potro lost 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 to Serbia's Laslo Djere in his first match since February as the Argentine continues to work his way back from a knee injury.

Nishikori's compatriot and world number one Naomi Osaka is through to the quarter-finals of the women's tournament for the first time after she eased past Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-3.

Osaka pulled out of the semi-finals in Stuttgart last month with an abdominal injury but has said she is no longer feeling discomfort during matches.

“I feel fine, so that's great,” Osaka said.   

“I'm at a really good place right now. I feel like I'm having fun playing tennis again which is always a good thing for me. I always play well if I have that mentality.”

In the last eight, the two-time major champion will face Switzerland's Belinda Bencic who beat Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Kozlova 6-0, 6-2.    

A potential semi-final foe for Osaka is world number three Simona Halep, who annihilated Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova 6-0, 6-0 in 44 minutes.   

Number two seed Petra Kvitova saw off France's Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-3 and will now face the Netherlands' Kiki Bertens.

READ MORE: Tummy bug won't stop Rafa Nadal from playing Madrid Open

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TENNIS

IN PICS: Rafa Nadal weds childhood sweetheart in Mallorca

Rafael Nadal married his partner of 14 years, Xisca Perello, at a castle in Mallorca on Saturday.

IN PICS: Rafa Nadal weds childhood sweetheart in Mallorca
Photo: Fundacion Rafa Nadal

Nadal, the 19-time grand slam champion, tied the knot with 31-year-old Perello at La Fortaleza, with a reported 350 guests invited to a private ceremony.

Juan Carlos I, the king of Spain from 1975 to 2014, was believed to be among those in attendance while the Michelin-star chef, Quique Dacosta, was reportedly in charge of catering.

The newlyweds shared some official photos of the day through the Fundacion Rafa Nadal, the NGO the tennis player set up on Mallorca

Photo: Fundacion Rafa Nadal

 

Nadal, 33, met his wife through his younger sister Maribel, a childhood friend of Perello.

They started dating in 2005 when they were both teenagers after meeting several years before.


Photo: Fundacion Rafa Nadal

The couple announced their engagement in January and revealed that the tennis ace had proposed on a romantic trip to Rome last May but chose to  keep the news private.

 

Perello, has always shunned the media spotlight although she has been pictured courtside at some of Nadal’s biggest matches.


Nadal kisses Perello after winning against France's Gael Monfils in the final tennis match at the Monte-Carlo ATP Masters Series Tournament in Monaco on April 17, 2016. 

But she isn't always there. In a 2011 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Perello explained: “He needs his space when he is competing, and just the idea of me hanging around and waiting on his needs all day tires me out.

“It would asphyxiate me. And then he would have to be worrying about me… No. If I followed him everywhere, I think there's a risk we might stop getting along.”

She works in insurance and is a business graduate but also serves as project director for the Rafa Nadal Foundation, the charity which Nadal launched almost ten years ago.

In an interview with sports newspaper Marca last year, the world number 2 hinted that he wouldn't be ready to start a family until he had retired from tennis. 

'I keep my commitment with tennis and my happiness', Nadal told Marca. 'I enjoy both in tennis and outside it. I have a girlfriend too and I am not alone to take decisions.

“Having family? I don't know, things are not easy to be predict. At this age, I thought that I would have already been a former player and that I would have started a family.”

READ ALSO: Rafa Nadal donates €1million to help victims of Mallorca floods 

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