The Roar
The Roar


Demon slays the King: de Minaur savours 'once in a lifetime' moment after knocking off Nadal on clay

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17th April, 2024

Rafael Nadal has hailed the brilliance of Alex de Minaur, calling him “a great player” after the Australian forced the Spanish legend to say an emotional farewell to the Barcelona Open, the beloved tournament he’s won a dozen times.

Nadal made it clear after being outplayed 7-5 6-1 by de Minaur on Wednesday that this was going to be his last competitive performance on the court named after him at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona.

But the 37-year-old, for whom this was a first tournament in three months and only his second in more than a year after being plagued with injuries, said he was delighted just to have been able to make his Barcelona farewell on the Pista Rafa Nadal.

“At least I had the chance to say goodbye here on court,” Nadal said.

“That means a lot to me, because I felt one week ago that I was not able to play in this event. 

“That would have been painful, so at least I played, I enjoyed the game, and now is the moment to keep going.”

The Spaniard went down in typically battling fashion but world No.11 de Minaur was simply too sharp.


“Alex is a great player. In terms of tennis today, he was in better shape than me,” said Nadal, who felt the Australian No.1 had made vast improvements since he last played him in a United Cup tie in Sydney – also won by de Minaur.

“He has really played at a very high level since the beginning of the season. He has made a very important step forward in his level of tennis. 

“I’m just happy for him and I congratulate him for the level he played today.”

Nadal showed some flashes of his old excellence and was left encouraged to believe that after his recent hip injury and abdominal issues he could be in much better shape to try to regain his French Open crown in May and June.

De Minaur said he was savouring the “once in a lifetime” triumph. He was rapid, ruthless and relentless in his 7-5 6-1 win and even if this, of course, wasn’t the all-conquering Nadal of old, the 37-year-old is still a hell of a force on the red clay and Australia’s No.1 played a supreme match, consigning the Spanish colossus to death by drop shot. 

Going where no Australian had been before him by becoming the first in 13 attempts ever to beat Nadal on clay, de Minaur acknowledged what a special day it had been.


“When the draw came out, I probably wasn’t too keen on playing Rafa, but I turned my attitude around and looked at it like a huge opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” De Minaur said. “I’m extremely happy that I was able to get the win.

“I’m very, very fortunate I didn’t play Rafa a couple years earlier on the clay. It would have been very, very different result. An amazing experience and we move on. It’s been a great year.”

For Nadal, though, it may be the last match he ever plays on the court named in his honour in what’s set to be the final season of his glorious career. 

De Minaur showed the utmost respect in applauding and not over-celebrating before Nadal soaked up a standing ovation on leaving the arena.

But on the very first point of the match, when de Minaur slipped in an unanswerable drop shot, it had been clear there was no room for sentiment here.

He repeated the shot five times successfully in just the first three games alone to get his venerable and vulnerable opponent on the run, breaking Nadal’s delivery in the first game and four times subsequently.

“I think about the only thing I might have on Rafa on clay is physicality at this stage of his career,” de Minaur said. “I decided to try and make the rallies quite physical and long, use my speed to my advantage. It’s never easy against him.”


Nadal’s old majesty saw him battle back into the fray in the first set but there were too many unforced mistakes emanating from his rusty racquet – 42 in all – for him to threaten.

At one point in the first set, a flashing forehand winner at full stretch off a Nadal howitzer had the Spaniard tapping his racquet in appreciation as he recognised how this new version of de Minaur, who’d beaten him in the United Cup on a hard court last year, is now a threat on any surface.

The key game came at 5-5 when de Minaur went on the attack and broke to love, before going on to serve out the set after a run of 11 unanswered winning points. 

By early in the second set, Nadal looked frazzled and well beaten by the Australian, who will play rising 16th seed Arthur Fils or German Daniel Altmaier in the last-16.


On a good day for the Sydneysiders, Jordan Thompson also made it into the round of 16, defeating Spain’s clay-court specialist Jaume Munar 6-4 2-6 6-4. Up next for him is Norway’s third seed, Casper Ruud.