MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal had a good, hard look at the future before pulling a few tricks from his past to hold it back – for now.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner, still recovering from a couple of months off with an injured left wrist, rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 win over German teenager Alexander Zverev on Saturday to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
The 30-year-old Spaniard finished stronger in the 4-hour, 6-minute match on Rod Laver Arena as Zverev, widely touted as a Grand Slam champion of the future, tightened up with cramping and nerves.
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”I enjoyed a lot this great battle. I was losing the last couple of times in the fifth set and I said to myself, `today’s the day,”’ said ninth-seeded Nadal, who had lost eight of the previous nine times he’d trailed 2-1 in a best-of-five set match.
Nadal attributed his superior finish to the experience of 236 previous matches in the majors.
”Well, fighting – and running a lot,” Nadal said, when asked to explain how he pulled off the win. ”I think you know, everybody knows how good Alexander is – he’s the future of our sport and the present, too.”
This was 19-year-old Zverev’s 15th Grand Slam match.
”Now I’m disappointed, but I know that this was a great match,” he said. ”That was a great fight.
”He’s probably one of the fittest tennis players in the history of the game, so… there are a lot of positives in this match.”
Nadal finished with 43 winners and 34 unforced errors, while Zverev – hitting harder, using a wider array of shots and trying more to find the lines – had 58 winners and 74 unforced errors.
Serena Williams has done it more easily, reaching the fourth round without dropping a set to stay on course in her bid for a record 23rd Grand slam title. Williams beat fellow American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-3 and didn’t face a break point until she was serving for the match.
Dropping serve in that game was her only lapse in a match that then extended just beyond the hour – to 63 minutes to be precise. The six-time Australian Open champion next faces No. 16 Barbora Strycova.
”I don’t have anything to prove in this tournament here. Just doing the best I can,” Williams said. ”Obviously I’m here for one reason.”
In one of two matches that finished just before midnight, U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova rallied from 5-1 down in the third set to beat Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 6-0, 10-8.
Ostapenko twice served for the match and twice she was broken, winning only one point in each game.
In the other, No. 22 Daria Gavrilova beat 12th-seeed Timea Bacsinszky 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena, meaning the last men’s match – between No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 18 Richard Gasquet didn’t get started until 11:58 p.m.
Earlier, Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic reached the fourth round with a 6-2, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 win over No. 25 Gilles Simon and will next play No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut, who beat David Ferrer 7-5, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 6-4.
Nadal will get another veteran next after U.S. Open semifinalist Gael Monfils beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-4.
In another gripping five-setter, but on an outside court, wild-card entry Denis Istomin followed his upset win over defending champion Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta.
No. 8 Dominic Thiem beat Benoit Paire 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 David Goffin, who ended Ivo Karlovic’s run 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
In other women’s matches, Ekaterina Makarova beat WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3.
In a rematch of their fourth-round meeting last year, Makarova will next take on 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her unlikely run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari, and so did American qualifier Jennifer Brady.
Before this week, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni hadn’t won a match at Melbourne Park since her debut here in 1998. The 19-year gap in between match wins at a Grand Slam tournament broke the record set by Kimiko Date-Krumm.
The 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist next plays No. 116-ranked Brady, who had never played in the main draw of a major before she qualified for this week.
The 21-year-old Brady had a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina in the first match of the day on Show Court 2.