Rafael Nadal breezes past Alexei Popyrin to seal Madrid Open quarter-final spot

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Rafael Nadal progressed to the quarter-final stage of this year’s Madrid Open with a routine win over world No 76 Alexei Popyrin in straight sets on Thursday afternoon. The 34-year-old claimed a 6-3 6-3 win at the expense of his relatively inexperienced opponent, who did not embarrass himself by any means but was no match for the decorated Spaniard.

Nadal saw off his teenage compatriot Carlos Alcaraz on Wednesday with a dominant performance, and produced another excellent showing against Popyrin to maintain his hopes of a sixth Madrid Open title.

He won four break points on his way to victory and appears to be nearing top form ahead of the French Open, which will get underway in Paris at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Popyrin made 20 unforced errors over the course of the match, with the 21-year-old in need of improvement if he is to be challenging for silverware any time soon.

Nadal was not at his very best on Thursday, but faced no issues in laying down a tactical masterclass in order to put himself within three matches of another trophy on clay.

He will face Alexander Zverev or Dan Evans, who stunned world No 1 Novak Djokovic at last month’s Monte-Carlo Masters, for a place in the semi-finals.

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It was a relatively straightforward afternoon for Nadal but he was tested on a couple of occasions by Popyrin, who was aiming to upset the apple cart at his counterpart’s home tournament.

The unfancied Aussie qualifier stormed to 40-0 in the very first game of the afternoon, but his mistakes let him down and allowed Nadal to take control of the match early on.

The latter defended plenty of break points to restrict Popyrin’s progress, and won 43 per cent of his return points to cruise into the next round at a canter.

He eventually claimed the spoils with his second match point, booking his place in the Madrid Open quarter-finals for the 15th time in his career after just one hour and 20 minutes of action.

Nadal was full of praise for his opponent after the match, admitting that he found it hard to maintain his dominance and backing the Sydney native to enjoy a long and successful career in the sport.

“It was difficult,” said Nadal during his on-court interview. “The court today was slippery and was very fast, very dry conditions. The ball was flying a lot.

“The beginning of the match was super tough, he was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. Very happy with the victory, an important victory.

“He came here playing well. every match is tough. Maximum respect, he has big potential, honestly.”

“I had, more or less, the match under control, if we can say like this against a player like him, but [I was] comfortable on the score.

“I think I was doing things well even though it was difficult to play against a player like him. He was hitting every ball hard so I needed to adapt, and I think I did well.”

Nadal will be hoping to prepare for the upcoming French Open in the best possible way by winning yet another Madrid Open title.

If he can progress into the last four with victory over Zverev or Evans, he will do battle with either reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem or world No 7 Andrey Rublev for a place in the final.

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