Australian Open 2017: Nadal battles past Alexander Zverev in five sets

Australian Open 2017: Nadal battles past Alexander Zverev in five sets

The Spaniard had to recover from two sets to one down against the talented German.

Joe Nicholson

Rafael Nadal battled through to the fourth round of the Australian Open after a bruising five set victory over German teenager Alexander Zverev.

At just 19, Zverev looks like he has all the attributes to become a Grand Slam champion one day and after taking a dramatic third set tie break he appeared to have Nadal on the ropes.

However, in a match which quickly turned into a battle of attrition, it was Nadal who eventually prevailed, winning 4-6 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 in a gruelling four hours and five minutes.

For most of that time Zverev, who was bidding to reach the last 16 of a major for the first time, had gone toe-to-toe with Nadal.

At 6 ft 6 the German has a big serve and powerful groundstrokes, which allowed him to blast his way out of trouble again and again.  

However, after a disappointing 2016, Nadal appears to have regained most of the spark which has made him a 14-time major champion.

At 30-years-old, the Spaniard has clearly made adjustments to his game, most notably flattening out his serve to yield more free points.

Here, on the Rod Laver Arena, he ground Zverev down until the German’s body began cramp mid-way through the fifth set.

Nadal will now take on Gael Monfils in the last 16 after the Frenchman beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets.

First two sets split

The pair had met just once before, at the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event last year, and it was a classic. Zverev missed a routine volley on match point before Nadal eventually triumphed in three sets.

The German made a perfect start here, breaking Nadal in the first game of the match with a thumping backhand winner.

It proved decisive as Zverev maintained his advantage throughout the opening set, conceding just one break point before taking it 6-4.

However, even when his form dipped last year, Nadal’s hunger was never in doubt and the Spaniard came up with a quick riposte at the start of the second set.    

He broke Zverev in the fourth game to lead 3-1 and once again a single break of serve was enough to take the set.

Zverev takes brilliant tie break

At one set all Zverev could have folded yet he continued to play aggressive and entertaining tennis which also brought the best out of Nadal.

The third set went to a tie break, and it was the German who managed to produce his best tennis of the match.

Zverev’s backhand had been rock-solid throughout the match but on the big points he used it to go on the attack.

After recovering from a mini-break down, Zverev fought back to earn a set point before ripping a backhand cross court to take a dramatic breaker 7-5.

Nadal goes the distance

At the start of the fourth set the 19-year-old suffered an inevitable lull, allowing Nadal to take an early lead.

Still Zverev would not buckle, as he forced Nadal to save break points with a couple of the Spaniard’s trademark forehands at 3-1.

The draining contest had clearly taken its toll on the German’s body and as the match went into a fifth set Nadal sensed his opponent was wilting.

At 2-2 in the decider, Zverev appeared to feel the effects of an extraordinary 37 shot rally and at the next changeover he called for the trainer.

Nadal showed no mercy as closed out the match in ruthless fashion.