Nadal survives five-set thriller against Zverev
Johanna Konta powers through against Caroline Wozniacki
Dimitrov says he’s off for an ice bath. After a marathon day six in Melbourne, I think I might need one too. Thanks for reading, enjoy the rest of your Saturday, and see you again tomorrow.
Third set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Gasquet (*denotes server)
It’s all over! Despite a final gesture of defiance from Gasquet, who rips a return deep into Dimitrov’s forehand corner to save a match point, the Bulgarian seals a thoroughly deserved victory. That was some performance.
Third set: Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, 5-4 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
Hats off to Richard Gasquet. Yes, he shanks a smash quite horribly at 30-0. But he still wins the point, and he goes on to win the game when a lovely off backhand forces Dimitrov into places he doesn’t want to go. It’s a courageous and highly professional effort from the Frenchman.
Third set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2, 5-3 Gasquet (*denotes server)
As the two-hour mark looms – not to mention the 2am local time mark – Dimitrov holds with something to spare to move within a game of round four.
Third set: Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, 4-3 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
It’s not just the seemingly effortless nature of Dimitrov’s strokeplay that’s so impressive, it’s also the fluidity of his movement. At the same time, you can have it too easy. A couple of needlessly errant returns suggest he may be losing his focus just slightly, and that’s something he’ll need to look out for in later rounds should he progress. Gasquet takes full advantage, ripping a backhand winner cross-court to hold.
Third set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2, 4-2 Gasquet (*denotes server)
The winners are just flowing from Dimitrov’s racket now. Highlights here include a majestic forehand winner, hit at full pelt, and a 10th ace. Dimitrov greets the hold with a clenched fist and a meaningful stare at his box.
Third set: Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, 3-2 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
You have to hand it to Gasquet, he hasn’t gone away. Not yet at any rate. Another hold keeps him within touching distance – on paper, at least.
Third set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2, 3-1 Gasquet (*denotes server)
It’s worth recalling that back problems forced Gasquet to withdraw from the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics last year. Is he feeling the problem again? He didn’t sit down at the last change of ends and his resistance is tame as Dimitrov holds for 3-1.
Third set: Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, 2-1 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
A good game from Gasquet, whose dipping forehand at 40-15 leaves the scrambling Dimitrov floundering. But is he merely staving off the inevitable? Unless he can produce something truly extraordinary – and one can never fully rule that out with Gasquet – it feels like he might be.
Third set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2, 2-0 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Clinical is not a word often associated with Grigor Dimitrov. But when a man polishes off a love game with his ninth ace, what other word is there?
Third set: Dimitrov 6-3, 6-2, 1-0 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
Irresistible from Dimitrov. He’s seeing the ball like a football, pouncing on anything remotely short and pounding winners even when he has no right to do so. Gasquet looks like he doesn’t know where he is right now. Two sets and a break down – that’s where he is.
Second set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 6-2 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Ruthless. Aided and abetted by some lacklustre returning from Gasquet, whose spirit seems broken for the time being, Dimitrov serves out a love game for a two set lead. We’ve been going for 90 minutes; it’s hard to imagine we’ll be going for another 90 minutes.
Second set: Dimitrov 6-3, 5-2 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
Could it be over in all but name? At 30-40, the two men embark on a baseline exchange so easy on the eye that you wish it would never end. But end it does, with Gasquet taking a backhand late and guiding it beyond the doubles alley. That’s a double break and a two-set lead for the taking for Dimitrov.
Second set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 4-2 Gasquet (*denotes server)
“It doesn’t look like a grand slam draw, it looks like a 250 [series] tournament,” remarks Pat Cash of the bottom half of the men’s draw. That’s pertinent, because the winner of this match will surely fancy his chances against Istomin. And with Murray, Federer and Wawrinka all in the other half, there’s certainly a lot to play for. That said, Nadal, Raonic, Monfils and Thiem isn’t too shoddy a line-up. Dimitrov holds.
Second set: Dimitrov 6-3, 3-2 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
Solid stuff from Gasquet. He’s having to work mighty hard, but he’s just about maintaining an interest in this second set – even if Dimitrov did just tease him with a dainty show of touch around the net.
Second set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 3-1 Gasquet (*denotes server)
If he is to get back into contention here, Gasquet desperately needs to arrest his opponent’s momentum, to make the match less a showcase for Dimitrov’s shot-making and more a war of attrition. Yet how to do that? He hits some wonderful shots, does Gasquet, not least a lovely corkscrew of a forehand, dragged cross-court at the most acute angle, but neither that nor some more searing backhand winners prove enough. Dimitrov hangs tough – not a quality with which we’ve readily associated him in the past – and responds with some flashing winners of his own to maintain his advantage.
Second set: Dimitrov 6-3, 2-1 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
Gasquet survives another onslaught as Dimitrov tests him with a viciously sliced backhand and a furtive assault on the net. For that, the Frenchman has a couple of lovely backhand winners and some strong serving to thank. Still, Dimitrov is really putting the squeeze on here.
Second set: Dimitrov* 6-3, 2-0 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Not even a minor contretemps with the umpire can unsettle Dimitrov now. He’s looking every inch the real deal, holding with something to spare and perhaps casting doubt on the sentiments of Toniwater, who writes: “We should get at least four sets out of these two lads! Baby Fed needs to step up into the big boys’ playground. Gasquet in four!”
Second set: Dimitrov 6-3, 1-0 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
The last thing Gasquet needed was a bad start to the second set. What he didn’t count on was shanking a forehand at 30-30 and then seeing his opponent produce an extraordinary forehand winner on the stretch to claim another break. A set and a break to the good, Dimitrov is firmly in the driving seat now.
First set: Dimitrov* 6-3 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Dimitrov successfully negotiates another attritional service game to seal the set, but boy did he live dangerously. The world No15 staved off four break points with some resolute play before finding an ace wide to the deuce court to bring up a first set point. Gasquet must have been fuming inside, but he retained his equilibrium to outrally the Bulgarian and get back on terms. An artful rally ensued – the match has not disappointed in that respect – and it culminated with another successful foray forward by Dimitrov. The result was another set point for the server, but this time a missed forehand proved costly. So too did two successive double-faults when a third chance came up. Finally, though, a flashing forehand winner brought up another opportunity and this time Dimitrov capitalised, thwarting an attack on the net by Gasquet with a lovely backhand pass.
First set: Dimitrov 5-3 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
A dreadful game from Gasquet, who is broken to love. The new balls should have helped the Frenchman, who hasn’t exactly been sending down bullets. Instead they seem to work against him, the ball skidding through on the slick Plexipave surface.
First set: Dimitrov* 4-3 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Setting aside the exchange of breaks, Dimitrov has so far been the more convincing on serve. He underlines the point here by holding to 15, Gasquet lashing a backhand long following an ace from the Bulgarian at 30-15.
First set: Dimitrov 3-3 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
At 15-0, Gasquet launches a sustained assault on the Dimitrov backhand. It’s not hard to see why, because the moment Dimitrov gets the chance to take a cut at a forehand, he slots away the smoothest of winners. The Frenchman nonetheless perseveres with the tactic, for which he is twice rewarded: first when he slots a lovely winner down the line with Dimitrov cheating to his backhand side, then when the Bulgarian mistimes a viciously spinning, shoulder-height ball. More baseline cat and mouse ensues before Gasquet seals the hold, although only after another protracted struggle. We’ve been going 35 minutes now and it’s 3-3 in the opening set. Coffee, anyone?
First set: Dimitrov* 3-2 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Dimitrov gets back on an even keel with a clinical service hold.
First set: Dimitrov 2-2 Gasquet* (*denotes server)
With public transport finished for the night and people leaving Rod Laver Arena in droves, you have to wonder who will suffer more if the atmosphere in the stadium goes flat. Not that there’s much sign of that happening right now, because there’s a small but vocal Bulgarian contingent who are doing just fine at making themselves heard. When a double-fault from Gasquet at 15-30 brings up break point they have good cause, too. Dimitrov sneaks into the forecourt, slots away a volley, and we’re back on level terms.
First set: Dimitrov* 1-2 Gasquet (*denotes server)
Dimitrov races to a 40-0 lead only to be slowly reeled in by Gasquet, who carves out a break point. Dimitrov’s serve kicks high to the Gasquet backhand, producing an uncharacteristically inelegant return from the Frenchman, but some wayward play from the server brings up a second chance for Gasquet. This time Gasquet makes no mistake, finding the baseline to draw first blood.
With 10 minutes gone and Gasquet embroiled in a long opening service game at 0-1, we’ve already seen some lovely tennis. I’m resisting the temptation to cast this as the battle of the backhands – for me, Gasquet’s one-hander is the best in the business – but some of the cross-court rallies off that wing wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery. After a protracted struggle, punctuated by a lovely angled drop volley from Dimitrov, Gasquet holds for 1-1.
John McEnery offers a different perspective. “Two class players unfortunate to be playing in the big four era,” he writes. “Grigor Dimitrov was earmarked for greatness but has not shown it yet, while Richard Gasquet is solid. Five setter!” For their sake, I hope you’re wrong, John. It’s just after midnight in Melbourne. If this goes the distance, they may not finish until after 4am; hardly ideal preparation for the last 16.
As for Gasquet – who, perhaps surprisingly, has never been beyond the fourth round in Melbourne – the Frenchman has been in fine fettle so far. He has yet to drop a set and, while he is ranked and seeded three places lower than Dimitrov, at 18th, he starts this match as a narrow favourite in the minds of those of us who remain to be convinced that the Bulgarian has the resolve to cut it consistently at the top of the men’s game.
It’s a good job Grigor Dimitrov – of whom Novak Djokovic once declared, after crashing a press conference at Indian Wells, “My friend Grigor here, best looking guy on the tour” – doesn’t need his beauty sleep. But is he more than just a pretty face? Once known as “Baby Fed”, on account of his stylistic similarities to Roger Federer, the Bulgarian has flattered to deceive since reaching the last four at Wimbledon in 2014 and reaching a career-high ranking of eighth. But he’s shown signs of a resurgence of late, with Dani Vallverdu – former friend, hitting partner and coach to one Sir Andy Murrary – a useful addition to his team.
Next up for Pliskova will be marathon woman Dasha Gavrilova, who has finally prevailed 6-4 in the third against the 12th-seeded Bacsinszky. “I feel sorry for the men,” says Gavrilova, conscious that Gasquet and Dimitrov have been waiting to get on court for more than two and a half hours. “I’m just exhausted.” No wonder. That’s her third three-setter in three matches.
“I think I was a little bit lucky in the third set – she was playing very well today, she was maybe better,” reflects Pliskova. “But I’m very happy to be in the fourth round of the Australian for the first time in my life.”
Meanwhile, Pliskova has done it! Serving at 15-40, Ostapenko is late on a backhand and sprays the ball wide. But what a match.
Gavrilova has missed two match points already on Rod Laver, so she must be mighty relieved when Bacsinszky misses a makable return at 30-40. The reprieve is short-lived, however, the Swiss breaking to get back on serve at 4-5.
Another quick service game from Pliskova, for whom serving first in this set has been a distinct advantage. As for Ostapenko, she’ll have to serve to stay in the match for a fourth time.
Gavrilova is closing on victory over Bacsinszky at 5-2 in the third. Ostapenko, meanwhile, is closing on … what, exactly? It’s hard to tell when she follows a pair of forehand winners with an absolute howler off a short ball. Neither, as we hit the two-hour mark, does she look too sprightly in attempting to run down a drop shot at 40-15. It matters not, though, as Pliskova fires a return out on the next point. 8-8.
Scratch that. She knows what to do, does our Karolina. Serve big. Swan about a bit. Return to chair. Simples. She leads 8-7.
In 2015, Ostapenko beat Carla Suárez Navarro in round one of Wimbledon. This, though, is something else. Serving at 6-7 against the world’s fifth best player, she uncorks some monstrous shots for a love hold. Pliskova must be wondering just what she has to do to to put her opponent away.
Gavrilova is 4-2 up against Bacsinszky now …
There are easier ways to hold serve, of course. To love, for instance, as Pliskova demonstrates. Consider the ball back in Ostapenko’s court.
Gavrilova has broken for 3-1 on Rod Laver Arena. That’s but a trifle here, though, because Ostapenko – serving to stay in the match – starts dismally and falls 0-30 behind. Does that unnerve the 19-year-old? Hell no. Winners off both wings bring up 30-30, and although a double-fault then brings up match point for Pliskova, she slams a fearless forehand winner to reach deuce. A first game point goes begging when Pliskova conjures a bulldozer of a forehand, a second is lost to a wayward backhand, but a double-fisted winner seals the hold. Wonderful tenacity from the youngster.
At 0-15, Pliskova appears to miss only to earn a reprieve when a HawkEye challenge proves successful. That proves crucial for the Czech, who pounds down three big serves for 40-15 and then wraps up the game with an ace. Ostapenko wanted to challenge a call on the service line at 30-15, but was too late – hopefully that hasn’t rattled her too much.
At 0-15 on the Ostapenko serve, Pliskova greets a sizzling backhand winner with delight. And well she might, because a mistake from the Latvian on the next point brings up two break points for 5-5. Pliskova goes long on the first but hangs on grimly in the baseline exchange that follows and is rewarded with a netted backhand from her opponent. They’re all square again!
Despite a couple of lovely forehand winners from Ostapenko, Pliskova holds to 30. The next game will be fascinating. Can the young Latvian serve out the match for what would surely be the biggest win of her career?
A belated display of big returning earns Pliskova 0-40 on the Ostapenko serve. The teen claws back the first break point but double-faults on the second. Will it be enough? We’ll see. Pliskova serves to stay in the match at 3-5.
As Ostapenko holds for 4-2, Pliskova lets off a little steam by smashing a racket. That earns her a code violation, which is about the last thing she needs right now. Ostapenko is spraying groundstrokes from corner to corner, and the languid Czech is struggling to stay with her. More than struggling, in fact, because she’s just been broken, Ostapenko pounding a winning forehand return on break point. The teenager leads 5-2 and we’re on the brink of another big upset in the women’s draw.
What’s happening on Rod Laver? Prolonged bathroom breaks all round, that’s what.
Well, well, well. Give Ostapenko an inch and she’ll take another hold of serve and reach break point on the Pliskova serve at 2-2, 30-40, thank you very much. Pliskova sees off the danger with some big serving, but when Ostapenko earns another opening she makes no mistake, going behind the Czech with a big forehand to force a backhand error. Poor footwork from Pliskova there and it’s dangerous times for the Czech.
Back on Rod Laver Arena, Gavrilova is showing her emotions as Bacsinszky closes on the set at 6-5 and serving. There’s been much racket swishing already, and bat and hand part company altogether when the Swiss brings up two set points at 40-15. She’s a fighter, is Gavrilova, and she staves off both to reach deuce, but a final, wayward backhand sees her relinquish the set. It’s all square. Stand down, messrs Dimitrov and Gasquet, stand down – your time is not quite here yet.
Having lost seven games in a row, Ostapenko finally stops the rot as an ace sees her hold to 30. Will it be enough to turn the tide? Doubtful. Pliskova has been looking irresistible on serve for the past 25 minutes or so, and she’s also making mincemeat of the teenager’s second serve. Getting her first delivery in play will be key for Ostapenko in the decider. Pliskova races through another service game to hold for 2-1.
With trademark pluck, meanwhile, Daria Gavrilova has battled her way back into second-set contention against Timea Bacsinszky. It’s 5-5 with the Aussie (Aussie, Aussie) a set to the good and serving.
This is the deepest Jelena Ostapenko has been in a slam and it’s starting to show. Pliskova has raced away with set two, closing it out 6-0, and the Latvian suddenly looks every inch as callow as her birth certificate might suggest. Still, there’s all to play for as they enter the third set – Ostapenko can hardly do worse than she did in the second, after all – and at least she’s in the spotlight for the right reasons this year. Twelve months ago, she came close to disqualification in Auckland during an ill-tempered defeat against Britain’s Naomi Broady that involved a flying racket and an unsuspecting ball boy.
Meanwhile, Gary Naylor asks: “Anyone else hoping that Monfils can win the slam here that his talent so richly deserves? He’ll find a way to lose I expect.” Not me, Gary. I love watching Monfils, but I’m still smarting from his antics at the US Open. If we’re talking unfulfilled French talent, however, I give you Mr Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. With that colossal serve and forehand, it would be a travesty if Tsonga ended his career without a major, however likely that may be.
Perhaps getting a little ahead of herself after claiming the opening set against the fifth seed, Ostapenko drops serve with a wayward game. Pliskova, who is surely far too laid back ever to get ahead of herself, turns the screw with a love hold that seems to last mere milliseconds. There’s plenty of life left in this one.
Pliskova steadies the ship with an unflustered hold to 15 in the opening game of set two. How the Czech needed that. Meanwhile, over on Rod Laver, Bacsinszky has hit back against Gavrilova to move 3-1 ahead in the second set.
Pliskova looks a little lost just now, which is a rare sight indeed. She’s gesturing to her box in uncharacteristically agitated fashion, but the truth is that Ostapenko is barely missing a ball. Showing all the fearlessness of youth, she slots away a forehand volley to take the first set. Impressive stuff from the 19-year-old.
Right, let’s switch our focus to Pliskova-Ostapenko for a while. The Latvian, ranked 38th in the world, is giving a fine account of herself against the fifth seed. She holds solidly for 4-4 and when Pliskova double-faults at 30-30 in the next game, opportunity beckons. Does she take it? Yes, she certainly does. Some brilliantly play from the back of the court pulls Pliskova hither and thither before Ostapenko pounces on a short ball, steering it into the open court for a winner. She likes that, does the Latvian, greeting the breakthrough with a prolonged cry of “Come oooonnnnnnnnnn!!!” She’ll serve for the first set.
A successful serve-and-volley routine from Gavrilova, who is 5-3 up and has Bacsinszky struggling on serve, ends with a jubilant gesture to the crowd. Yep, she’s a natural Aussie all right. And how they love her. A wonderful show of touch clinches the first set for Dasha, who cuts sharply under her backhand to conjure a beauty of a sliced dropshot. The scampering Bacsinszky has it all to do now.
Karolina Pilskova, she of the captivating nonchalance and cool ink, has just started against the Latvian Jelena Ostapenko over on Margaret Court. The Czech, seeded fifth, will be eager to build on her brilliant run to last year’s US Open final and she’s been going about it the right way so far in Melbourne. Pliskova has dropped just four games in two matches going into today’s contest, so expect Ostapenko to have her work cut out.
Don’t count Bacsinszky out here. She’s just broken back for 2-4, and she has serious pedigree, what with being ranked 12th in the world and having reached the semis at Roland Garros and the last eight at Wimbledon in 2015. Serving at 0-30, she underscores that point with a scorching backhand winner. But Gavrilova is on a first-set roll here, and she pulls the Swiss from pillar to post before sealing a third break to move 5-2 up.
Gavrilova breaks at the fourth time of asking to move 2-1 ahead, a breakthrough she greets with a gesture of grim determination. Grim determination is very much the hallmark of the 22nd seed, in fact, whose favourite pastimes include running, harrying and scrapping. In case you’re wondering about her switch of nationality – born in Moscow, she became an Aussie citizen in December 2015 – it owes much to Luke Saville, her long-time beau. Saville, a former junior world No1 with two majors under his belt at that level, hails from Cobdogla and is about as Aussie as they come. That said, Gavrilova seems thoroughly genuine when she speaks of her love for her adopted country. “She really likes it here,” Saville told the Herald Sun this time last year, when Dasha – as Gavriolova is known – made the last 16. “It is different – obviously Melbourne is pretty busy, but Moscow is definitely on another level with congestion. The weather is a big one as well, the Melbourne winter is nothing for her. She still likes going back to Europe and Moscow and meeting up with all her friends and family – she spent a couple of weeks there in the off-season in October-November – but she loves it here.” And in the time it’s taken me to write all that, Gavrilova has moved 4-1 ahead. Dasha by name, dasher by nature.
So then, Timea Bacsinszky and Daria Gavrilova. Both blonde, both wearing the same ensemble of sky blue skirt and navy top. Same shoes, same sponsor. They’ve both got white headgear, too, with Gavrilova’s visor taking on the Bacsinszky bandana. It’s 1-1 in the first set; that’s about as much as I can safely tell you.
“I’ll see you all against Rafa,” promises Monfils. Careful he doesn’t see you first, Gael, what with his 12 wins in 14 previous meetings. Meanwhile, Milos Raonic is also safely through, having just won the fourth set against Simon 6-3.
Oh dear. Serving at 15-30, Kohlschreiber screws a cross-court forehand wide. Match point. A baseline exchange follows, but the German sends a forehand long. It’s all over. Monfils celebrates with a series of strange hand gestures, directed at his box. Pretty much par for the course, then. That’s five losses in a row for Kohlschreiber against the Frenchman now; he’s won just two of their 15 encounters.
Meanwhile, it remains all square on Margaret Court Arena. Monfils is 5-4 up and it’s going with serve. But what of Milos Raonic and Gilles Simon, I hear you ask. Well, having dropped the third set against the Frenchman, Raonic is a break up in the fourth and closing in on victory. He leads 6-2, 7-6, 3-6, 5-2. Assuming he completes the job, the Canadian will face Roberto Bautista Agut, the 13th seed, in the last 16.
You have to love Barbora Strycova, by the way. The Czech, seeded 16th, faces Serena Williams in the next round. Now, Williams has won this title six times and – as if we could forget – is going for a 23rd slam in Melbourne. Strycova has never beaten the American, losing both of their two previous encounters. But is she daunted by the prospect of facing the world No2? No. No she isn’t. “She’s human, and she is beatable,” said Strycova after beating Caroline Garcia of France 6-2, 7-5 earlier today. “This is a grand slam, and we are talking that she already won, but I don’t like these talks.” Maybe not, Barbora, but we love your talks.
Speaking of worthwhile watches, Gael Monfils is two sets to the good against Philipp Kohlschreiber. But the German, seeded 32nd in Melbourne, is still very much in the fray, having just held serve for 2-2 in the third. He trails 6-3, 7-6, but you simply never know with Monfils … even if he has just banged down his eighth ace en route to a love hold.
Bacsinszky and Gavrilova will be followed on to Rod Laver Arena by Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet, which certainly promises to be one for the aesthetes. They’ve played six times previously, have the Bulgarian and the Frenchman, with Gasquet leading the series 5-1. Interestingly, though, Dimitrov won their most recent encounter, on a hard court in Shanghai last October. He’s playing some fine tennis, too, having beaten Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori en route to the title in Brisbane the other week. That’ll definitely be worth a watch.
So fitness and experience win the day for Nadal. Let’s hope those who have been waiting patiently outside for the evening session to start can match him for those qualities. They’ll probably have the best part of an hour to wait before the gates open. Once they’re in, though, there should be plenty to enjoy. First up is local favourite Daria Gavrilova – if you can be a local favourite, what with having been born in Moscow and all – against Timea Bacsinszky, the 12th-seeded Swiss. Neither player has had the easiest run so far – Gavrilova, who acquired Australian citizenship in December 2015, has been taken the distance in every round so far, while former French open semi-finalist Bacsinszky was taken to 7-5 in the third by Camila Giorgi of Italy in her opening match – so that promises to be a close one.
“You cannot pretend to be in the fourth round of the Australian Open and have an easy opponent,” says Nadal, looking ahead to playing the winner of Gael Monfils and Philipp Kohlschreiber. “I enjoyed a lot this great battle.” As did we all, Rafa. That was sensational tennis from both men. It’s just a shame Zverev was let down by his conditioning in the final stages.
Awesome, Jim Courier calls it. He’s not wrong. Fighting and running a lot were key, says Nadal, who calls Zverev “the future of our sport and the present too”. Cue more huge cheers. “His serve was huge in the third,” reflects Nadal, who says that he resolved thereafter simply to fight for every point and forget about the result.
After an incredible effort in that previous game, and with the clock passing the four-hour mark, Zverev looks all but spent. The last thing he needs in such circumstances is a successful HawkEye challenge from Nadal at 15-15, but that’s what he gets. Ace. Moments later, it’s 40-15; two match points. A final, brief exchange ends with Zverev stretching unsuccessfully for a forehand that limps into the net. Rafa pumps his fists in jubilation; the big man is back in town. But what a match! And what an effort from the German, who leaves the court to a huge ovation. Rightly so. He’s an incredible talent.
Courageous play from Zverev, who is still caning forehands and sending down serves in excess of 125mph despite his physical problems. With Rafa looking fit, fresh and focused, however, it’s not enough for the youngster. Nadal works his way to deuce before forcing Zverev to stretch wide on the backhand. Predictably, a mistake follows from the teenager. The bravest of aces saves the day for Zverev but – despite a temporary reprieve from the net cord – there is little he can do in the face of a sustained and searing onslaught from Nadal. Nadal concludes the game with a huge forehand winner and that’s a double break now. We can consider this one over, I think.
In stark contrast to the preceding game, Rafa serves out to love in a minute and 29 seconds. Poor Sascha. He didn’t sit down at the change of ends – he got a rub down from the trainer – and he can barely move. 4-2 Nadal.
Zverev, who stands 6ft 6in tall, is showing real maturity here. Faced by some probing slices from Nadal, who is fighting desperately to regain the initiative after relinquishing that break, the teenager has clung on in the rallies and served absolute bombs. But it’s taken a huge physical toll. Cramping badly and forced to go big, he is broken after a titanic game as Rafa moves 3-2 ahead. Such is life against Nadal over the long haul.
Nadal and Zverev, whom the Spaniard has tipped as a future world No1, have played just once previously, with Nadal forced to save match point against the German en route to victory at Indian Wells last year. You can see why he struggled. Rafa is throwing everything at the rangy 19-year-old here, but Zverev refuses to go away. In fact, he’s broken back for 2-2.
The winner of this match – if either of them have enough energy for another match after this three-hour-and-35-minute-and-counting marathon – will play either sixth seed Gael Monfils or Germany’s Philipp Kohlscreiber, who is seeded 32nd. That match has just started on Margaret Court Arena.
But let’s face it, there’s only one show in town right now. Having broken in the opening game of the decider, Nadal is now 2-1 ahead and serving. What a match it’s been. The quality from both players has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Hello and welcome to our rolling coverage of the middle Saturday at the Australian Open. It’s a little after 7.15pm in Melbourne, where the eyes of the tennis world are trained firmly on an absorbing contest between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev, the talented German teenager. Nadal has just squared the match at two sets apiece after Zverev, seeded 24th, claimed two of the first three sets. The score, as I write, stands at 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
We’ll train our attention on that match in just a tick. Lest we forget, though, this whole shebang has been going for more than eight hours now, so let’s pause to reflect on events so far. The biggest upset of the day has come in the women’s draw, where the 30th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova earlier dumped out Dominik Cibulkova, the world No6 and reigning WTA Finals champion, in three sets. Johanna Konta is also through, with the ninth-seeded Brit looking hugely impressive in her 6-3, 6-1 win over former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki. Serena Williams eased past fellow American Nicole Gibbs by a similar score, winning 6-1, 6-3 to move a step closer to the 23rd major that would leave her only one behind Margaret Court on the all-time list.