Australian Open 2017 : Nadal tops Zverev in match of the tournament to make Round 4
The Spaniard locked his younger rival in an extremely physical game and came out on top in the end.
A spirited Rafael Nadal came back from two sets to one down to beat 19-year old Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 in a historic 3rd round clash at Melbourne Park.
Termed as the "Battle of Generations", this match completely lived up to the expectations, providing a visual treat to the fans. Both players left their all out there, with Nadal proving to be a bit too strong for the young German in the end.
Already standing at a gigantic height of 6ft 6in, Zverev, also known as Sacha, is considered to be the next big thing in tennis. He possesses a monstrous serve, coupled with heavy groundstrokes, as was on display today. But Nadal tackled all that extremely well with the defensive brand of tennis he's known for.
They have faced each other just once before, at Indian Wells last year, where Nadal had to come back from a set down to beat Sascha 6-7(8) 6-0 7-5. Sascha in fact had a match point, but couldn't convert, as he dumped a regulation forehand volley to the net. But his game has been improving steadily, and he's touted to be a future number one.
With chants of "Come on, Rafa" going around the stadium, the match begun. But Sascha produced some big time tennis to take the set 6-4.
The first game itself gave us a glimpse of how dangerous this 19-year old can be. Not many players can dominate Rafa in crosscourt rallies from their backhand to Rafa's forehand. But Zverev used his height extremely well to get on top of Nadal's high-bouncing forehands to break Rafa to edge ahead 1-0 very early in the set.
Zverev started off his service game with an ace, showing that he was in no way intimidated by his opponent and the occasion. He held his serve comfortably to put Rafa under pressure right away.
Zverev set up another break point himself with a beautiful forehand down the line winner, but some aggressive tennis by Rafa enabled him to open his account. Zverev led 2-1, serving , a break up.
Nadal created a break point opportunity for himself on the Zverev serve, but Zverev saved that with a big first serve, holding on for a 3-1 lead.
A string of quick, confident holds by both players saw Zverev extend his lead to 5-3, forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the set.
Zverev had a set point on Rafa's serve, but Nadal saved it with a beautiful inside out forehand winner, compelling Zverev to serve out the set. Zverev kept his calm incredibly well to convert on his 3rd set point opportunity, making Nadal play one extra ball, drawing an error out of his forehand.
Nadal had a much better start in this set, unlike in the first, where a break in the first game proved to be decisive in the end. A couple of uncharacteristic forehand errors secured an easy hold to 15 for the German youngster, as the scoreline read 1-1.
An aggressive love hold for Rafa followed next, it was evident that Rafa had settled into this match nicely now.
And it immediately showed. Some stellar defensive play saw Rafa break Sascha's serve for the first time in the match, earning himself a 3-1 lead.
Rafa consolidated the break beautifully, stamping his authority in the match. A couple of holds extended Nadal's lead to 5-2, making Zverev serve to stay in the set. Some loose tennis from the youngster gave Nadal a set point, but Zverev saved it with some gutsy tennis.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Nadal came up with some enthralling tennis to hold at love and take the set 6-3. A trademark fist pump followed!
Zverev came out stronger in this set, putting Nadal's serve under some serious pressure, after having hit back to back aces and an unreal angled backhand crosscourt winner to hold his own serve in the previous game. Nadal did really well to hang in there for a hold from 15-30 down, preventing himself to go down in the early in the set.
A brutal rally at 30-15 saw Nadal have a look at breaking Zverev's serve, but Zverev went up 40-30 at the back of a Nadal forehand error. And then a similar taxing rally saw Nadal take the score to deuce. After a couple of rounds of deuces, Zverev finally managed to hold his serve with a big booming first serve which Nadal was unable to return.
None of these players seemed to be relenting in this all-important set. Producing some big serves, they found themselves locked at 4-4, approaching the business end of the set.
A couple of tight holds later, the score read 5-5. And Zverev saw this as a perfect opportunity to produce a clinical love hold, further proof to his big match temperament. A nervy hold by Rafa took this set a tiebreaker, with Zverev looking slightly the better player at the time.
A trademark Rafa Nadal passing shot took the score to 1-1 in the tiebreak, but he shanked a forehand next to hand Zverev a mini-break. But Rafa took both points on Zverev's serve to be a mini-break up himself, with Sascha not being able to cope up with the Nadal defense. Some heavy groundstrokes, especially from the backhand flank, from Sascha saw him snatch the two mini-break back from Rafa again. But staying true to the topsy-turvy nature of the tiebreak, Sascha handed the mini-break back again to Rafa. The score read 5-5, with potentially the two most important points of the match coming up. And that's where the Sascha Zverev backhand did all the talking. And Nadal had no answers to it, enabling Sascha to take the tiebreak 7-5.
With potentially a very long road ahead to get back into the match, Rafa served ahead in this set. A slew of unforced errors by Zverev, who seemed to be losing focus, saw Rafa holding comfortably to start off the set.
The crowd started getting behind Rafa, shouting "Let's go Rafa, let's go", desperately wanting their 2009 champion to make a comeback.
The chants seemed to have done wonders, with Rafa opening up a rare 0-40 lead on the Zverev serve. But Zverev quickly brought it back to deuce, denying Rafa the chance to break. But Rafa did not let go, using his slices beautifully to put Zverev in trouble, breaking for a 2-0 lead.
At 3-1 30-30, Zverev produced a stellar backhand passing shot to bring up break point, but Rafa promptly saved it. After multiple deuces, two forehand errors from Sascha helped Nadal to hold for a 4-1 lead. Nadal then had two break chances to go 5-1 up, but couldn't manage to take them. He eventually won the set 6-3.
The fifth see was a see-saw battle. When Nadal brought all his experience into play to break Zverev and then hold for a 2-0 lead, Zverev came up with some audacious tennis of his own to break Nadal's serve to get it back to 2-2.
The game at 2-2 could go down in history as one of the greatest games in the history of tennis. After being 40-15 down on the Zverev serve, Nadal rallied back to get it deuce. A string of deuces followed, with one of them throwing up a lung cracking 37-shot rally, catching both players out of breath.
Zverev clearly showing signs of cramping after that point, and could barely move after that. It was merely a formality after that for Nadal to seal the match. Nadal used his experience to keep the ball in play and make Zverev move as much as possible, as Zverev was going for broke on all his shots, being unable to move due to the cramp.
Even after being down and out, Zverev showed great fighting spirit to hang in there, battling for each point like his life depended on it. After facing multiple break points serving at 2-4 down, Zverev kept on hustling against a raging Rafa. But it wasn't enough, as Rafa produced outrageous winners to take a 5-2 lead, to eventually serve out the match for a 6-2 win.
Nadal’s celebration at the end of the match would make fans believe that there’s something special to come from him in this tournament.
9th seed Rafael Nadal will next face the winner of the match between 6th seed Gael Monfils and 32nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.