Rafael Nadal graciously accepted defeat after being beaten by a teenager on clay for the first time in his Madrid Open quarter-final loss against Carlos Alcaraz, who he tips to continue beating the best players in the world.
The 19-year-old fought through a mid-match ankle injury to progress 6-2 1-6 6-3 and set up a semi-final showdown with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Speaking after the defeat, Nadal said: “The first thing is to congratulate him. First of all, happy for him, he has been better than me in various facets of the game and I need to improve these days. It is accepted naturally and calmly, with the certainty that there is a path to follow and arrive with real options to generate opportunities. It is an easy defeat to digest, we knew what we were coming here for and we have to congratulate Carlos, he is playing well and I wish him the best for the rest of the tournament."
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Despite being sidelined for six weeks ahead of the tournament with a rib problem, and having to battle what he has described as a “chronic foot injury”, Nadal refused to make excuses for his exit in the Spanish capital.
"I'm fine, I haven't had any problems. I'm not going to talk about my foot today, it's a day to accept defeat naturally. I have to improve my ability to react, speed, dynamism, read and may my legs be with me,” he said.
The 21-time Grand Slam winner admits he will be unable to let the defeat pass him by easily though, saying: “In the end, I'm the one who has to do self-criticism and be clear about what I have to improve. I need to hit the ball deeper, have the ability to turn with the drive more times and faster, and the speed that improves with days and games. When you come back after a while you have to accept things as they come, there is a medium-term goal that overcomes any sadness."
Overall, after wins against David Goffin and Miomir Kecmanovic, Nadal says he will not leave the tournament disheartened.
"The reading is that I have played three games and arrived with zero preparation." he said. "I have lost to one of the fittest players in the world, having my options as well.”
I've been with the right attitude.
“I haven't been able to do what I needed to do today, but it's time to work and trust that things are going the right way."
The statement performance and victory from Alcaraz confirmed he will be a player to watch out for at the French Open, and after securing his fifth straight win against a top-10 opponent, many players on the tour will be hoping to avoid the young Spaniard.
Before reaching Paris, Alcaraz has his mind set on a place in the final in Madrid, and his compatriot Nadal thinks Djokovic is in for a shock if he thinks it's an easy passage to the showpiece match.
"I haven't seen Novak play this week," Nadal said. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow, one of the best players in history is playing against a youngster at a very high level. Carlos can win perfectly, I don't see any reason why he can't win. It's true that he can't have a slump like the one in the second set. He plays a lot with moods, when his adrenaline goes up he's practically unstoppable. Then, of course, he makes mistakes because he plays with a lot of risk. I think he has the level to beat anyone in the world, without a doubt."
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