ATP Indian Wells: Rafael Nadal Fights Back From Match Point Down To Beat Alexander Zverev

Rafael Nadal escaped a three-set scare against, teenager, Alexander Zverev to reserve his spot in the quarterfinals of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open.

Young Gun Settles In Early

The first four games of this soon-to-be-thrilling encounter were consecutive comfortable holds of serve. The German looked impressive as he only dropped one point in two service games. The fifth game held the first break point in the match. Alexander Zverev counters Nadal’s lefty slice serve out wide with a huge backhand winner to take a one break lead in the first set.

The pair’s points consisted of each player waiting on the right time to be aggressive and when they were not comfortable dictating the points, they both played a counter puncher game style. The 18-year-old followed up his break with a game of dominant, powerful serves, earning him the 4-2 lead.

Alexander Zverev hits a backhand during his fourth round match. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
Alexander Zverev hits a backhand during his fourth round match. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

The Spaniard was frustrated with his play and was given a warning for audible obscenity. The warning was unusual for Nadal and it fired him up, motivating him to win the next five points. Serving up 4-3, Zverev denied the number four seed of his first break and expanded his lead to 5-3. But the 29-year-old held to love to put the pressure back on the youngster’s racquet, forcing Zverev to serve for the set.

Although he led 5-4, 30-0, he could not cross the finish line as Nadal soon made the match level.  The first set seemed to be gradually slipping away from this year’s German Hopman Cup male player. The teenager held two break points in the lengthy five-all game, but the more experienced player held his serve. This time, Zverev wasted no time to win his service game and take the set to a tiebreaker.

The first set tiebreaker stayed competitive from the first strike. Neither player could expand the gap until it was finally done to end the set. But each player had their chances to take a one-set lead. The rising star was the first to hold a set point. The Spanish veteran saved it and took one of his own. After Nadal’s first failed attempt to close out the tiebreaker, he arrived to second set point, but could not overcome his opponent’s sharp play. At last, Zverev took the tiebreak and first set,7-6(8) after an hour and nine minutes. Each player lost more than half of their second serve points, but fortunately they both maintained a high first serve percentage. The Hamburg, Germany native sought to handle his nerves against the world number five to tally his biggest win of his career.

Two-Time Champion Shifts Momentum

Despite having pulled out a nerve-racking first set, the world number 58 could not find his recent form in the second set. He was immediately broken to love, then the two-time Indian Wells champion consolidated. Zverev struggled to even win points in the second set. In a blink of an eye, the match was suddenly all squared with the nine-time Roland Garros champion wrapping the set up in 25 minutes. His 11-year-younger opponent only gathered nine total points in the set as well as only winning two points on his first serve.

Rafael Nadal serves in Indian Wells./Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal serves in Indian Wells./Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Streaky Final Set

The third and decisive set started, surprisingly, on the German’s term as he won his first game in nearly 30 minutes. He seemed to be bouncing back comfortably, as he broke for the second time. But he was unable to maintain his momentum, and was immediately broken back.

An unusual three-game break streak put Zverev back up a break, serving at 3-1. Despite a sub-50% first serve percentage, this year’s Open Sud De France semifinalist won over 80% of his first serve points. Eventually, the he was leading 5-2 in the third set against a player he grew up watching. But the Spaniard applied the pressure back to the 18-year-old, as he was serving for a spot in the quarterfinal at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.

Rafael Nadal looks excited during his comeback win. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal looks excited during his comeback win. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

The youngster went up 30-love quickly, but the fight in the fourth seed leveled the game to 30-all. Being six foot six inches, the German number two’s serve vaulted him to match point. A well-played point led him to receive a forehand volley right in his comfort zone to put away into the open court. But excitement caused his feet to not take enough adjustment steps necessary to make the volley, sending it straight into the net.

A heart-broken Zverev was then broken and a straight-forward hold from the two-time champion tied the decisive set at 5 games apiece. The next eight points went in the favor of the lefty, which ultimately ended the match 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5 in Nadal’s favor after two hours and 34 minutes on Stadium 1.

What Is Next For Nadal?

Rafael Nadal books his ninth meeting with Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. The Spaniard leads their series seven wins to one, but their most recent match went in the Japanese’s favor. Both players are coming off tough three-set wins. Their match should be expected to go long as both players possess great speed and the will to fight until the end.