The ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal has beenat the Monte Carlo Masters after the Russian pulled off one of the most extraordinary victories of his career.
Nadal is an 11-time winner of the clay court event but it was the underdog Rublev that came out on top in a thrilling three-set quarter-final.
The loss represents just the second time in his last 16 appearances that the World No.3 has failed to reach the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo tournament.
The Spaniard was bidding for his 12th title at one of his favourite venues but had a rare off day as he slipped to a 6-2 4-6 6-2 defeat against sixth seed Rublev.
Russian Rublev is having another impressive season and has now made back-to-back Masters semi-finals after reaching the last four at the Miami Open.
However he was given a helping hand by Nadal, who made an unusual number of errors and cut a frustrated figure despite playing some trademark incredible tennis at times.
The pair frequently traded massive forehands and backhands during baseline slug-tests of the highest quality.
On more than one occasion Nadal fashioned “ridiculous” winners from seemingly impossible situations in a match that was labelled “breathtaking” by viewers.
Rublev looked set to win in straight sets but Nadal dug in in typically gritty fashion to restrict his deficit to one break and then won four games in a row to clinch the second set.
But in cool conditions he could not hold off the firepower of Rublev, who swept through the decider.
Nadal singled out his lacklustre serve while praising his opponent.
“When you face a great player like him and you don’t play well, you should lose, no? That’s easy to analyse. For some reason I had problems with my serve,” the Spaniard said.
“I don’t know why because I was not having problems in the practices at all. But today was one of these days that my serve was a disaster. I fought. That’s the positive thing.
“I’m always sad to lose here, of course, because it’s an important one for me. I missed an opportunity to start the clay-court season in the right way. But that’s it. I can’t complain. The only thing that I can do is go to Barcelona and keep practising, try to fix the things that didn’t work well.”
Rublev hailed after amazing win
In the last four, Rublev will face Norway’s Casper Ruud, who reached his second Masters semi-final by knocking out defending champion Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-3.
“I don’t even know what to say. I cannot imagine being in the situation of Rafa, knowing that you are the best player on clay,” Rublev said. “I think for him it must be incredibly tough.”
“(Casper) is playing really well. I have known him a long time. He finished today much earlier. I will try to recover as best as I can,” Rublev said.
Britain’s Dan Evans continued his surprise run by following up a third-round victory over Novak Djokovic by coming from a set down to see off 11th seed David Goffin 5-7 6-3 6-4.
“It wasn’t easy after the match yesterday, I felt really tired afterwards,” said Evans, who has only one career title. “I am proud of how I came back today.”
Evans will take on fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is now the highest-ranked player left in the draw.
The Greek only needed to play one set against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, taking it 7-5 before the Spaniard, who injured himself in a fall on Thursday, retired in tears.
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