Rafael Nadal passed his first major test of the Australian Open, battling past Alexander 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.
The German continued to apply the heat, battering huge groundstrokes as he earned himself another break point. The Spaniard kept battling and got the crucial hold of serve to stay within touch of his German rival. 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. Zverev’s 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. He earned a set point on return, but a signature scorching forehand winner from Nadal saved the set point and he came through to hold, forcing 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. 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. Nadal raised his level and started dictating play. Zverev came through a much better service game as he looked to make a comeback and there were chances for that in the next game at 30-30 but Nadal recovered to come through 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 at one set apiece.
An emphatic hold for Zverev got the third set underway and he took a 15-30 lead on return in the next game but Nadal recovered to take the next three points to dig out a hold. Another tight game followed on Zverev’s serve but he 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.
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 on even terms. The German took advantage of a short ball from Nadal and ripped 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).
The Spaniard got back on track at the beginning of the fourth set with an important love hold. The run of points kept going 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 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 27 shot rally on his way to a 4-1 lead.
Another intense mini-battle on Zverev’s serve saw 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 fifth and deciding set.
Nadal kept his momentum going into the fifth set, breaking in the opening game and consolidating easily to take a 2-0 lead. Zverev held to love and 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 quick 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.