Interest was at full peak for the highly awaited third round clash between Spanish legend Rafael Nadal and arguably ATP’s biggest teen sensation, Alexander Zverev. And boy did they deliver!
Zverev, better known as ‘Sascha’, put on an exhibition of prodigal shotmaking coupled with amazing mental fortitude. And, Nadal, on the other hand, answered his doubters by winning yet another epic five-setter as he reached his 10th Round of 16 at the Australian Open improving to a 48-10 W/L record there.
In what was earmarked as the Battle of the Generations, 14-time Grand Slam winner tour veteran Rafa Nadal defeated flashy teenager Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2 in 4 hours and 5 minutes.
Lead-Up To The Epic
Sascha came into the match having reached his maiden 3rd round at Melbourne Park and looked to aim for Nadal’s weaknesses right from the start. Nadal was slowly getting his rhythm back, one that had eluded him for the past couple of years. It was a battle of prestige, and a re-match of the pair’s 2016 Indian Wells 4th round battle, one in which the then 18 year old Zverev came within a point of beating a shaky Nadal. It was inexperience that stood in the way of Sascha and an unanticipated victory as a volleying error at the net cost him the driving seat in the match. But the young lad showed character and garnered immense praise from El Matador himself, as he did from others, with the theme being almost similar.
“He’s a definite future number 1 and a potential multiple grand slam champion.”
Zverev began the match confidently, unflinching at his strides and broke Nadal in the very first game of the match. Zverev’s backhand, already touted as one of the best double-handers on tour, generated raw power as he continued to play sublime tennis throughout the set and pumped his fists on winning the opening set 6-4. Nadal had no answer to Zverev’s powerful and aggressive display of tennis, but owing to his massive experience, he quickly turned the momentum on his side, breaking Zverev very early in the second set. Nadal didn’t commit any further errors, and ended up winning the second set.
The following sets showed exactly why Alexander is touted as the future of tennis and why counting Nadal out time and again is the biggest act of foolery one can commit. Having never played such a high quality match against a top player before, Zverev showed determination, and it was only after the longest rally of this year’s Australian Open – 37 shots, which Zverev won – did his inexperience finally pave way for Rafael Nadal! And Nadal – he simply showed the world that he still believes in himself and others should too, because the shaky version of his was gone for good. In the decider, at 2-2 and deuce on Zverev’s serve, they played a 37-shot rally – one that would define the match – grueling and full of class, and Zverev won the point, only to get a muscle cramp right after.
Nadal would make no mistake thereafter and grab the match with both hands, because experience leads to a proper execution of intent and makes the difference during these moments. Soon, Rafa would break and run away with yet another five-setter in what could potentially be the match of this tournament and a dejected Zverev would almost be in tears on his walk back to the locker room!
Rafael Nadal, once again proved to be a champion both on and off the courts when he patted Zverev affectionately, visibly enthused by the NextGen frontrunner’s heartening display of courage, resilience and vigour.
The world number 9 was full of praise for his young competitor who matched him toe-to-toe,
“I think everybody knows how good Alexander is. He is the future of our sport and the present too. He’s able to produce great shots, already one of the best players in the world and can be even better. He can be fighting for the most important things, so I think he can do it.”
And about his own victory, Rafa was rather happy to have finally won a five-setter in three years, having lost the last three,
“It’s obviously an important result for me. I lost the last last couple of ones, matches in the fifth. So is important for me to win a match like this, losing two sets to one. Very happy.”
While the heartbroken teen was all praise for his opponent as well and looked for positives despite the defeat,
“Rafa is a legend. His forehand is probably one of the best in the history of the game. I’m disappointed but I know this was a great match which I could have won. It’s disappointing but I’m fine actually. There are a few things here and there that I could do better but I’m happy with my performance.”
Nadal next faces 6th seed Frenchman Gael Monfils, whom he leads 12-2 in their Head to Head encounters with Monfils’ last win coming back in 2012. And with his current run of form, Nadal seems to be getting back to his best shape. His team can finally look forward to contending for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. A win would mean a potential match-up with 3rd seed Milos Raonic who has meant business so far at the Australian Open.
Nadal believes in himself, his team believes in him, his fans believe in him. With a second Australian Open in contention, and history at stake (if he wins this week, he’ll be the first person since Aussie legend Rod Laver to have completed the Grand Slam twice), all eyes will be on a resurrecting Nadal to prove his worth on the big stage, one more time.