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Top-seeded Sinner, Nadal, Swiatek all advance at Madrid Open

Top-seeded Sinner, Nadal, Swiatek all advance at Madrid Open

MADRID – Rafael Nadal tore his headband off, thrust his arms in the air, and soaked up the cheers. It was only a second-round win, but coming from where Nadal had been just a few weeks ago when he couldn’t even get on the court, he could have been savoring a trophy.

He had just beaten 11th-ranked Alex de Minaur 7-6 (6), 6-3 at the Madrid Open on Saturday, avenging a straight-set loss to the Australian less than two weeks ago.

Nadal is no longer aiming to add to his 92 titles after being decimated by injuries in recent years. The 37-year-old just wants to play like Rafael Nadal, or as close to that as he can. So he is going forward game by game, measuring his efforts to avoid an injury that would likely force his definitive retirement, with the ultimate goal of being competitive one more time at next month’s French Open.

“I have been through some very difficult months when there were moments when I didn’t see the reason to continue, but I had the dream of experiencing feelings like this again and above all at home,” Nadal said. “It was incredible.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion was cheered on by Spanish King Felipe VI, soccer great Zinedine Zidane and a raucous crowd that packed the Caja Magica to see what will most likely be the tennis great’s last tournament in Spain.

Nadal was playing just his fourth competitive match since his latest injury layoff in his farewell season.

De Minaur beat Nadal just 11 days before in Barcelona, where the Spaniard returned to the courts for the first time in more than three months. Nadal looked much better this time around.

But Nadal said being ready to play at Roland Garros, with its more demanding five-set format, is another matter, especially given the importance he has for the tournament he has won 14 times.

“Roland Garros is the most important tournament of my tennis career, and all the things that I lived there, enjoyed there, stay in my heart forever,” he said.

“So if I am not able to go on court and dream, even if it’s the minimum, minimum percentage, (then) for me doesn’t make sense to go on court. I’d prefer to stay with all the amazing memories that I have. I want to be there, and even losing, but, you know, to go on court with the chance to dream about something important.”

Nadal got a straight-set win over American teenager Darwin Blanch on Thursday, but De Minaur was much stiffer competition and the tension in the stands of Manolo Santana Stadium was palpable.

The first set saw both players…

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