MELBOURNE, Australia — 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.
“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-sets 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.”
It was 19-year-old Zverev’s 15th Grand Slam match, but he had been on a three-match winning streak against top 10 players.
“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.
Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet didn’t