Australian Open 2017 - Nadal proves he's still got it
Put to the test by Alexander Zverev in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday, Rafael Nadal nevertheless managed to clinch a five-set victory over the up-and-coming German (4-6 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2). By prevailing against the youngster, Rafa proved that he is not yet ready to pass on the baton to the next generation.
Handover of power? What handover of power? Rafael Nadal is happy to admit that Sasha Zverev looks to have a bright career ahead of him. Of all the young bloods champing at the bit to overthrow the Big Four on the ATP tour, the 19-year-old current world No.24 is Nadal's favourite to conquer the summit of the world rankings in the near future. That says it all: in the near future, but not right now. Early on Saturday evening, Rafael Nadal was well and truly challenged out on Rod Laver Arena, but the nine-time French Open champion did not bow out.
In the third round of the Australian Open, the former world No.1 ran around the court, fired back shots, got into trouble and then dug himself out again. The 30-year-old triumphed 4-6 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2 in 4 hours 06, proving that he is not prepared to pass on the baton just yet. Rafa has finally won a Grand Slam five-setter after three consecutive defeats, against Fabio Fognini in the third round at Flushing Meadows in 2015, Fernando Verdasco in the first round here in Melbourne last year, and against Lucas Pouille in the fourth round of the most recent US Open.
Against an opponent like Alexander Zverev, it was expected that the Manacor marvel would be well and truly tested, especially since he is only just making his return to competition after a three-month absence due to a wrist injury. And challenged he was. But Nadal aced the test, reigning victorious in this hotly-anticipated mano a mano duel between the old guard and the new. Sasha Zverev came out all guns blazing, stunning the Spaniard with his hard-hitting forehands. He won points that gave a glimpse of the great player he could become and showed a certain level of maturity in coping with such a large-scale event. However, his youth and relative inexperience showed through when, weakened by cramps at the end of the match, he crumbled under the unrelenting pressure exerted by the Majorcan.
"That is an important result for me"
"I'm disappointed, but I know that this was a great match," Zverev recognised after the match. "That was a great fight. There's a lot of positives in this match. I think he's probably one of the fittest tennis players in the history of the game, so..." For his part, Nadal was clearly delighted, "Obviously, that is an important result for me. I lost the 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." He later added, "Doesn't matter how you arrive in the second week. If you are not injured, the most important thing is being there. I did. I won three great matches. Especially this last one is a very important one for me, no? I hope to be ready. As I say before, no, my body was good during the whole match. Let's see how I wake up tomorrow [Sunday]. But I believe that I'm going to be fine."
Contrary to what the young bloods might have hoped, the "oldies" have not thrown in the towel just yet. No fewer than sixteen players over the age of 30 were still in the running in the third round of the Australian Open, and Rafael Nadal has now gone one step further. A little voice inside the Majorcan is whispering that it's not over yet, that a second title in Melbourne some eight years after his first − which would make him the first ever player in the Open era to win all four Grand Slams twice – is still within his reach.