by Kevin Craig
Rafael Nadal withstood the effort from young German star Alex Zverev in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday, winning in five sets by a score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(5) 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal, the No. 9 seed in this year’s Australian Open, has been out to prove a message to the ATP World Tour early in the season as he already claimed an exhibition title in Abu Dhabi before reaching the quarterfinals in Brisbane. Now, the 14-time major champion has continued an impressive run to the fourth round in Melbourne after another tough win over Zverev.
“It’s obviously an important result for me. I lost the last couple of ones, matches in the fifth. So it’s important for me to win a match like this,” Nadal said.
The two met last year in Indian Wells, and the German blew an easy volley on match point before eventually squandering the loss to Nadal. That result surely would’ve given Zverev some extra motivation to get revenge on Nadal on Saturday, but in the end, the experienced veteran was just too good, but remained humble as always.
“Everyone knows how good Alexander is. He is the future of our sport, and the present too, now,” Nadal said.
Zverev, who hit 58 winners in the match, got off to a hot start, breaking Nadal in the first game of the match. After saving a break point three games later, Zverev was able to cruise through the rest of the set to jump out to an early lead.
It was Nadal who got off to the hot start in the second set, though, as he held his first two service games at love before breaking the 19-year old easily for a 3-1 lead. Nadal never looked back from that point, as he only dropped three points on serve in the second set to level the match.
Breaks continued to be scarce into the third set as neither man was able to create even a single break point in the set. Zverev was forced to play a 12-point service game early in the set, but other than that, neither player had much trouble on serve. The tiebreak was neck and neck, just like the rest of the set, but it was Zverev who created a set point at 6-5 and didn’t miss out on the opportunity, taking a two sets to one lead.
Being just one set away from the win, Zverev’s mind may have flashed back to Indian Wells last year when he missed out on a great opportunity to upset one of the greatest players of all time. In his first service game of the set, Zverev was broken, allowing Nadal to take an early break lead. Serving at 3-1, Nadal fought off one break point in a 12-point game before settling down in the latter stages of the set, closing it out and forcing a decider.
“Fighting and running a lot,” Nadal said when asked what the key was to his comeback. “I enjoyed a lot this great battle.”
While the fifth set score line will read 6-2 in favor of Nadal, the set was much tighter than you would expect. After Nadal broke in the first game, Zverev was able to break back and get back on serve at 2-2. Nadal did break in the next game, but not before the German fought off two break points in a 16-point game. Zverev’s next service game also resulted in a break, but once again he fought hard, saving two more break points, this time in an 18-point game.
“For the confidence, for lots of things, it’s very important to win these kinds of matches,” Nadal said. “I think I finished the match playing much better than what I started the match.”
Next up for Nadal will be the 6th-seeded Gael Monfils. The eclectic Frenchman has been very impressive in the Australian Open so far, only dropping one set in his first three matches.