Rafael Nadal continues to look good in his final tune-up event ahead of the French Open.
After dropping just three games in a straight-set win over Carlos Alcaraz to open the 2021 Madrid Open, Nadal advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alexei Popyrin.
A five-time champion at this tournament, Nadal is peaking at the right time heading into Roland Garros. He's won seven straight matches overall dating back to the Barcelona Open two weeks ago.
2021 Madrid Open Results - Thursday
Rafael Nadal def. Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 6-3
Alexander Bublik def. Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 6-3
Dominic Thiem def. Alex De Minaur 7-6 (9-7), 6-4
Cristian Garin def. Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-7, 6-1
John Isner def. Andrey Rublev 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(4)
Casper Ruud def. Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(4), 6-4
Matteo Berrettini def. Federico Delbonis 7-6(4), 6-4
Alexander Zverev vs. Daniel Evans 6-3, 7-6(3)
Ashleigh Barty def. Paula Badosa 6-4, 6-3
Aryna Sabalenka def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3
If history is any indication, a win for Nadal this weekend is good news for his chances at the French Open. His five wins in Madrid have all coincided with him going on to win at Roland Garros, most recently in 2017.
Popyrin did have some moments in the match to keep both sets fairly close, but the 21-year-old qualifier was eventually overwhelmed by Nadal.
Nadal helped keep Popyrin in the match with some sloppy moments. He was visibly upset after an unforced error in the first set.
Speaking to reporters after his win, Nadal did note the court conditions made things difficult.
"The court today was slippery, it was very fast, very dry conditions," he said. "The ball was flying a lot. The beginning of the match was super tough," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "He was hitting every ball and hitting the spots. Very happy with the victory. It was an important victory, he came here playing well. Every match is tough."
Despite some hiccups, Nadal was able to secure a spot in the Madrid Open quarterfinal for the 15th time in his storied career.
The biggest upset on the men's side saw No. 4 Stefanos Tsitispas sent home by unranked Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 6-4.
Tsitispas looked to be hitting his stride this season after winning the Monte Carlo Masters and advancing to the Barcelona Open final before losing to Nadal in three sets.
Even though the loss does count as an upset, Ruud is on the rise in the ATP standings. The 22-year-old made it to the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time in his career. He beat three ranked opponents at the Monte Carlo Masters before losing to Andrey Rublev in the final.
José Morgado @josemorgado
Casper Ruud is yet to face a break point this week (!) and gets the biggest win of his career (in terms of ranking) to beat #5 (and in form) Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(4), 6-4 and reach the QFs in Madrid.<br><br>Top 20 debut expected, gets Bublik tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/ZLffVCGXPp
Ruud has just one win on the ATP Tour in his career to this point at the 2020 Argentina Open. His performance in his first three matches in Madrid suggests he could add another title to his resume by the end of the weekend.
On the women's side of the bracket, top seed Ashleigh Barty locked up a spot in Saturday's final. She ended Paula Badosa's surprise run that included a victory over No. 8 Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals.
Barty got past Badosa 6-4, 6-3 to reach the championship match at this tournament for the first time in her career. Badosa's win in their previous matchup at the Car Open remains Barty's only blemish in her past 17 matches.
The Aussie has won two of her last three events, including a run at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with three straight victories over top-10 opponents.
Per WTA.com, Barty has won 16 consecutive clay-court matches.
"I've learned a lot more about [clay], without a doubt," Barty told reporters after her win. "I promise you, I'm still counting down to the grass court season. It's one of my favorite times of the year. I think the memories and the learnings now that we're getting from the red clay has been really cool, to be able to challenge myself in different ways."
Barty's success on clay dates back to her breakthrough win at the 2019 French Open. It remains her only appearance in a grand slam final to date.
Standing in Barty's way is Aryna Sabalenka, who has yet to drop a set through four matches this week. The 23-year-old defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3 to reach her second consecutive final.
Barty defeated Sabalenka in the final at the Tennis Grand Prix two weeks ago in three sets. They have met a total of seven times since 2018, with Barty holding a slight 4-3 edge.
The men's quarterfinal schedule for Friday includes Nadal taking on Alexander Zverev, Ruud vs. Alexander Bublik, Matteo Berrettini vs. Cristian Garin and John Isner against Dominic Thiem.