Rafa Nadal holds off rising talent Zverev to reach last 16

Serena Williams gave her compatriot Nicole Gibbs a lesson in grand slam tennis

Spain’s Rafael Nadal progressed to the fourth round against Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Saturday. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Spain’s Rafael Nadal progressed to the fourth round against Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Saturday. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

 

Rafa Nadal held off a fierce challenge from one of the hottest prospects in the game when he outlasted German teenager Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 to reach the last 16 of the Australian Open on Saturday.

The Spaniard, champion here in 2009, needed to be at his resilient best to come out on top after more than four hours of top quality shot-making and thrilling rallies which earned both players a huge ovation from the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

The 19-year-old Zverev showed in spades why many consider him a future grand slam champion but was just unable to stay with the uber-fit 30-year-old in a gripping deciding set.

“Everybody knows how good Alexander is, he’s the future of our sport and the present too,” said Nadal, who reached the fourth round for the 10th time in 12 appearances at Melbourne Park.

“Today was a great battle, I am very happy to be through. It was an important result for me as I’ve lost my last couple of matches in the fifth.”

Returning to Melbourne Park as ninth seed after curtailing his 2016 season because of injury, Nadal will next face Gael Monfils of France as he bids for a 15th grand slam title.

While Zverev’s performance reinforced his position in the vanguard of generation next, Nadal confirmed that he is healthy enough to take advantage of the early exit of 2016 champion Novak Djokovic from his half of the draw.

Quick start

It was the younger man, however, who got off to the quicker start, grabbing a break in the opening game with a sumptuous backhand dropshot and moving the former world number one around the court.

Zverev had a 20 kph advantage over Nadal on first serve but the German was unable to dominate in the second set the way he did in the first and a single break evened up the contest.

The third set developed into a ding-dong battle with neither player able to snare a single break point and it was Zverev who edged the tiebreak with an angled winner, again off his backhand.

Nadal grabbed the only break of the fourth set on Zverev’s first service game and tied the contest up with his eighth ace, sending it into a decider.

Another early break for Nadal appeared to set him on the path to victory but Zverev was having none of it and broke back, only fading when he started cramping after a series of marathon rallies to allow the Spaniard to claim the victory.

“I’m disappointed but I know that this was a great match, That was a great fight. There’s a lot of positives in this match,” Zverev said.

“I think he’s probably one of the fittest tennis players in the history of the game. Obviously I wanted to win. I could have won. It’s disappointing.”

Serena progresses

Meanwhile Serena Williams gave compatriot Nicole Gibbs a lesson in grand slam tennis with a 6-1 6-3 thrashing to charge into the women’s fourth round.

Having passed her earlier tests against more accomplished players, second seed Williams had far too many weapons for the 92nd-ranked Gibbs, who appeared overawed by the occasion at a sun-drenched Rod Laver Arena.

Williams suffered a brief lapse when serving for the match at 5-2 and was broken for the first time, but she promptly broke back to close out the one-sided contest in just over an hour.

The 35-year-old American, bidding for a record 23rd grand slam title in the professional era and a seventh at Melbourne Park, heads into the second week, and a clash against 16th seed Barbora Strycova, in fine touch.

“I feel like I have been able to do pretty good,” Williams told reporters, having had only two tour matches to warm up for the tournament after calling off her season after the US Open last September to deal with a knee injury.

“I have been doing the things I have been doing in practice, and hopefully I can build up on this.

“That’s all I want to do.”

Earlier Johanna Konta powered into the fourth round of the Australian Open for the second year in a row on Saturday, comfortably seeing off former world number one Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 6-1 on Margaret Court Arena.

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