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Disaster strikes

It’s much easier to play when you have nothing to lose.

Agence France-Presse

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RAFAEL suffers a shock exit following a sorry 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 loss to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals of the ATP Masters Series. / Valery HACHE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MONTE CARLO, Principality of Monaco (AFP) — Rafael Nadal’s bid for a 12th Monte Carlo Masters title was shattered by Andrey Rublev, who swept to a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 quarterfinal win on Friday with the great Spaniard admitting his serve was “a disaster.”

Nadal, bidding to reach the semifinals of a Masters for the 75th time, followed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who was beaten in the third round, out of the tournament.

“Today was one of those days that my serve was a disaster,” world No. 3 Nadal said.

“It’s always sad to lose here. I missed an opportunity to start the clay court season in the right way. But that’s it. It’s not the moment to complain.”

“The only thing that I can do is go to Barcelona (where he plays next week) and keep practicing, try to fix the things that didn’t work well.”

Despite Friday’s setback, the 34-year-old Nadal will still be favorite to capture a 13th Roland Garros title in June and record-setting 21st major.

“For Rafa, it must be incredibly difficult to play with this pressure of always having to win,” said Rublev, who also made the Miami Masters semifinals at the start of April.

“I’m shocked to see the level which he can reach despite this pressure. It’s much easier to play when you have nothing to lose.”

It was only the second time in 16 appearances in Monte Carlo that Nadal had failed to make the semifinals.

World No. 8 Rublev will face unseeded Casper Ruud, who put out defending champion Fabio Fognini, for a place in the final.

The other semifinal will feature Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas against Britain’s Dan Evans, the man who shocked Djokovic.

Tsitsipas is now the highest seed left after world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev was forced to withdraw due to a positive Covid-19 test.

Rublev is no stranger to taking out the big names as he stunned Roger Federer at Cincinnati in just 62 minutes back in 2019.

On Friday, the 23-year-old won the first set in 38 minutes but Nadal then pocketed the last four games of the 73-minute second set to level the contest.

In the decider, Rublev held his nerve, breaking the Spaniard three times on his way to a famous win, his first in three meetings with Nadal.

“He played well, he deserved it more than me,” Nadal said.

“But you can’t expect win against a player like him losing my serve I don’t know how many times — six, seven times? It’s too much.”

Tsitsipas advanced to the last-four when Alejandro Davidovich withdrew after losing the first set 7-5.

Tsitsipas, the world No. 5, will play his sixth Masters semi-final, and his first in the principality, against Evans, who battled past Belgian David Goffin 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Struggling with an injury to his left thigh, Spaniard Davidovich tried an underarm serve when facing set point.

Tsitsipas pounced to hit a winning backhand return with his opponent quitting after dropping the opener 7-5.

“I noticed he was hurt. His leg was hurting. But I didn’t want to think about it, I tried to pretend he wasn’t injured and keep playing as I was doing,” Tsitsipas said.

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