Rafael Nadal says emotional ‘goodbye’ to Madrid Open after loss

Spain's Rafael Nadal delivers a speech after losing against Czech Republic's Jiri Lehecka during the 2024 ATP Tour Madrid Open tournament round of 16 tennis match at Caja Magica in Madrid on April 30, 2024
Nadal spoke to the crowd after his final match in Madrid - Getty Images/Thomas Coex

Rafael Nadal had to pause for a few moments, visibly emotional, while addressing the crowd after his loss in the fourth round at the Madrid Open.

As chants of “Rafa, Rafa, Rafa” echoed around, the five-time champion in Madrid made a farewell speech following a 7-5, 6-4 loss Tuesday to the 31st-ranked Jiri Lehecka.

It was likely his last official match at the tournament in the Spanish capital.

“This is a difficult day when it arrives, but it’s a reality. My body and my life had been sending me signs for some time,” Nadal said. “I was able to say goodbye playing on this court, one of the most emotional ones for me. Madrid at times has been more important to me than a Grand Slam. The memories here will stay with me forever.”

After the match, tournament organizers unfurled five banners for each of Nadal’s titles in Madrid — 2005, ‘10, ’13, ‘14 and ’17. They also showed a video of his highlights, as his wife and sister shed tears in the stands.

“It’s been a gift what you’ve done for me during the 21 years that I’ve played here,” said the 37-year-old Nadal, a winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. “All I can say is ‘thank you.’”

Nadal had not lost to a player ranked outside the top 20 on clay since falling to Pablo Cuevas in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro. He was seeking his 60th win in Madrid and the 100th ATP 1000 quarterfinal of his career.

He is coming off an injury and is trying to get back in shape ahead of next month’s French Open after coming off two matches in Barcelona having not played competitively in nearly three months.

He arrived in Madrid saying he wasn’t fully fit and was worried about his condition, but in the end he won three consecutive matches without showing significant physical limitations.

“Just two days before I left for Barcelona I really didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again in an official match,” Nadal said, “and in the end I’ve played two weeks.”