The 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal overcame some inspired play from Alexander Zverev, prevailing in five hard fought sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2, to reach the Australian Open fourth round. The Spaniard will face Gael Monfils on Monday for a place in the quarterfinals.
Nadal started slowly, allowing Zverev an early break that was enough to give him the first set. The Spaniard raised his game in the second and began to trouble Zverev with a wide variety of shotmaking to take control and level the set.
Very little separated the two in the third set as both served extremely well but the German played an incredible tiebreak to go back into the lead. Nadal pounced early on return in both the fourth and fifth sets to take advantage. It was enough in the fourth to force a decider but in the fifth Zverev managed to fight for the break back. A brutal game on the German's serve seen Nadal break and the nineteen-year-old faded as he began cramping, and the Spaniard took advantage as he ran away with the decider.
Early break enough for Zverev
Nadal got the match underway on serve, a couple of errors from the Spaniard followed by a brilliantly angled backhand from Zverev brought up a break point for the German. Zverev crunched another backhand crosscourt on break point and although Nadal managed to retrieve this one, the German hit a great drop shot at full stretch to break in the opening game. Zverev extended his lead, firing an ace and another backhand winner to hold serve. Nadal struggled on serve in the next game too as Zverev continued to apply pressure, crunching huge groundstrokes as he earned himself another break point. The Spaniard kept battling and got the crucial hold of serve to stay a game away from his opponent.
Zverev's lead was in danger in the next game as Nadal chased down a drop shot and struck a passing shot winner to earn a break point, but big serving from the German held off the break and brought him through another hold of serve. Nadal followed with some much better serving, hitting his first ace to help him through a hold to love. The German didn't give Nadal any chances on return in the next game as unplayable massive hitting took him through an easy hold of his own to lead 4-2.
The good run of serving from Nadal kept going as he sealed his second consecutive love hold with an ace. Although the Spaniard was now looking much more settled on serve, he still wasn't allowed to find any kind of rhythm on the return as more massive serves and rushing groundstrokes took the German through another solid hold, forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the set.
The Spaniard looked to be sailing through another easy hold but two double faults in a row gave Zverev opportunities at 30-30. The German's backhand was still causing problems for Nadal as he earned a set point on return. A signature scorching forehand winner from Nadal saved the set point and he came through the hold to force Zverev to serve for the set. Nadal threw everything at Zverev as he was serving for the opener, making the German run and throwing in a few sliced backhands as he fought through to deuce. Zverev didn't let his lead slip and fought off the pressure, taking his third set point with an error from Nadal to lead 6-4.
Nadal got the second set off to the start he would have wished for in the first, coming through an impressive hold to love to lead for the first time in the match. After another good hold for each player, the Spaniard's great defense earned him two break points for a 2-1 lead. The German hit loose forehand to hand Nadal the break. The 2009 champion extended his lead to 4-1 as Zverev grew frustrated. The German missed out on a couple of tightly contested points as Nadal raised his level and dictated play.
Zverev came through a much better service game as he looked to make his way back into the set. There were chances for the German on return in the next game at 30-30 but Nadal recovered to come through the crucial hold and force Zverev to serve to stay in the set. The Spaniard earned a set point on the return, but three excellent points from Zverev brought him through the tight hold. Nadal served out the set 6-3 without trouble to level the match.
Zverev battles for the lead
An emphatic hold for Zverev got the third set underway, firing four winners in a love hold to get off to the best possible start. The German took a 15-30 lead on return in the next game but Nadal recovered to take the next three points and survive the tense service game. Another tight game followed on Zverev's serve as both men were playing at an excellent level. Zverev battled through, great defending and aggressive play giving him the advantage and a 2-1 lead.
Nadal fired a forehand winner to seal another quick hold and put the pressure straight back on Zverev. The German was again pushed to deuce by Nadal but an incredible display of skill at the net brought Zverev through another mini-battle on serve to lead 3-2. The Spaniard raced through his first love hold of the set, taking the game point with another stunning forehand winner, to quickly level the pair up.
Zverev was still being pushed by Nadal on serve but the nineteen-year-old was soaking up the pressure, continued big hitting dragging him over the line. A double fault from Nadal left Zverev with opportunities at 15-30. An ace followed by two forehand winners got the former champion through the crucial hold for 4-4.
The holds continued, and although Zverev was twice two points away from taking the set, neither man was able to make a breakthrough on serve and they ended up in a tiebreak. Zverev hammered in an ace to begin the breaker. Nadal fired a forehand passing shot to take the second. The pair then traded mini-breaks as they each made an error on one of their own service points. Great defense from Nadal gave him a second mini-break and a 3-2 lead.
Again the break was stolen back as Zverev pummeled the ball around the court, forcing Nadal from side to side and eventually drawing the error to bring the pair back level. The German took advantage of a short ball from Nadal and crunched a backhand crosscourt winner to take a mini-break lead but again the Spaniard bounced straight back to level the breaker at 4-4. Zverev went back in front as some solid hitting took him through a tough point on serve. Another huge backhand from the German gave him another mini-break and he held on to his next service point to seal the third set 7-6(5).
Back from the brink
The Spaniard got back on track at the beginning of the fourth set with an important love hold. The run of points kept going into the return for Nadal as he earned three break points for an early lead. A backhand unforced error by Nadal followed by a huge forehand winner and an ace from Zverev brought them to deuce. The Spaniard dictated at deuce to earn another shot at the break and Zverev sent a forehand long to secure an early lead, the first break since the second set. The lead was easily consolidated and the momentum back with Nadal as he raced away to a 3-0 lead.
Zverev came through a good hold, raising his level as he got his first game of the set on the scoreboard. The German battled on return but Nadal came up with some excellent serves when he needed them most to save a break point, then coming out on top of a twenty-seven stroke rally on his way to a 4-1 lead.
Another intense mini-battle on Zverev's serve seen the German fend off two break points, great serving late in the game bringing him through. The pressure was then on Nadal's serve as Zverev was throwing everything at the Spaniard in attempt to get the break back. A stunning string of net points got Nadal through another grueling game and took him a game away from leveling the match.
The German wasn't feeling any pressure as he served to stay in the set, flying through a love game to force Nadal to serve it out. The Spaniard sealed the set with an ace, taking it 6-3 to force a decider.
Nadal fights for victory
Nadal kept his momentum going into the fifth set, breaking in the opening game and consolidating easily to take the lead. Zverev wasn't going away just yet and sailed through a hold to love to stay a game away from the former champion. Solid hitting from the German and a look at a few Nadal second serves gave him three break back points. A missed return from Zverev and a scorching forehand winner from Nadal left the German with one break point. The Spaniard gifted it with a forehand long to bring the pair back on serve at 2-2.
Nadal stepped into the court and hit a clean forehand winner to take the first point on return but Zverev took the next three with huge hitting and two aces. Two errors in a row from the German brought the pair to deuce. An inch perfect ace brought up another game point for Zverev but a reckless error brought them to deuce again. A double fault brought up a break point for the Spaniard. The first was lost with an error but a second quickly arrived with a loose shot from Zverev. The young German crunched a backhand crosscourt winner to force them to deuce again and then came out on top of an outstanding thirty-seven stroke rally to earn a game point. An error from Zverev followed by a brilliant passing shot gave Nadal another break point, this time it was gifted with an error as Zverev looked to be cramping after such a brutal game.
A one minute thirty second hold for Nadal handed him a 4-2 lead. The German was clearly struggling as he tried to hang on to his serve. The Spaniard threw everything at him, coming up with some incredible shots to take a second break. Nadal served out the match without trouble to claim the comeback victory and a place in the fourth round.