'Emotional' Nadal knocked out of Madrid Open by Lehecka

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after losing against Jiri Lehecka at the 2024 Madrid Open (Thomas COEX)
Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after losing against Jiri Lehecka at the 2024 Madrid Open (Thomas COEX)

Jiri Lehecka broke home hearts on Tuesday as he put an end to Rafael Nadal's run at the Madrid Open, on the Spaniard's final appearance at the Masters 1000 tournament.

The 30th-seeded Lehecka defeated Nadal 7-5, 6-4 to advance to a last-eight meeting with Daniil Medvedev, and deny the five-time champion the chance to become the first man in history to reach 100 Masters 1000 quarter-finals.

This was Nadal's first defeat on clay to a player ranked outside the top 20 since 2016 and it marked the end of his storied career in Madrid, where he has the most wins (59) and titles (five) in tournament history.

"I'm happy. It was a very special week for me, very positive and very emotional. I had the opportunity to play one more time here on this court," said Nadal on court.

Nadal has not decided exactly when he will be hanging up his racquet this season but the 22-time Grand Slam winner's retirement is fast approaching.

Numerous physical issues have hampered him over the past two years and he will make the call on whether he will compete at Roland Garros later this month.

Lehecka and Nadal were neck and neck for the first 10 games of the contest on Tuesday before the 22-year-old Czech made his move breaking at love then holding at love to scoop the opening set in just under an hour.

Nadal dropped serve at the start of the second and never recovered as the tournament bids farewell to its greatest champion.

A special ceremony was held on Manolo Santana Stadium after the match, with banners suspended above the stands with the words "Gracias Rafa" and signifying the years in which he has won the Madrid tournament.

"This was a joke, because I'll be back next year," said Nadal, with his family watching on from the stands.

"All I can say is thank you to everyone that has helped me in my career. It hasn't finished yet.

"It has been a gift what you've given me here. The emotion that I get from this experience in Madrid, from the Spanish public… I was lucky as a kid to do the job that I love. I feel super fortunate to have lived the life that I've lived. I couldn't ask for anything more."