Rafael Nadal of Spain / AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO
The match was predicted a challenge of the next generation of players against the old guard and it fitted the bill. However, experience and doggedness prevailed over youth and talent as Rafael Nadal won a five-set thriller against Germany’s Alexander Zverev 4/6; 6/3; 6/7(5); 6/3; 6/2.
The promising youngster won the first set on a single break of Nadal’s serve. The Spanish maestro was down 3-5 and held serve easily. Serving for the set, Alexander reached game point on one of his booming serves but a second delivery offered Nadal the deuce. A hard first serve gave the serve advantage that was held to clinch the set 6/4. It looked like an upset was in the offing.
Nadal registered his resistance in the first game of the second set that he took at love. The second and third games flowed quickly with serve but Zverev fell behind 15-40 on his serve and Nadal capitalised for the break. He held serve for a 4-1 lead and never looked back as the games went with serve. Nadal held to level 6/3.
Zverev opened serving in the third set and did not concede a point. Although Nadal trailed 0-30 in the second game, he leveled in points and won on the first game point. There was a stiff battle in the third game. Despite reaching game point at 40-30 Zverev was forced to deuce and needed three advantage points to clinch the game, thanks to his serves that consistently registered above 200km/h. The set went into a tie break and the younger player won by 7 points to 5.
Nadal won the fourth set on a single break of serve. In the fifth set, both players won their first two games. In the fifth game, Nadal fenced off the powerful serves to force a deuce. Nadal denied Zverev two consecutive game points after a long rally at game point. Nadal returned a 207km/h serve and took the game on his first opportunity. He held his own serve to lead 4-2. Zverev needed to win the seventh game but Nadal’s returning put him behind 0-15; 15-30 and 30-40. He served to deuce and had the first advantage point. It was cancelled by Nadal. Nadal took the next advantage but could not seal the game. In all, each player had three chances to win but it was Nadal who succeeded on his third offer, to hold the cliffhanger of a game. Serving for the match, the Matador jumped to 30-15 and claimed the game on his first match point to close the set 6-2.
In every tennis match, the loser would recall specific games that made the difference and it would require an effort not to dwell on what might have been. The fifth and seventh games of the deciding fifth set will haunt Alexander Zverev for a while.
In winning the match, Nadal shut out, for the moment, the determined challenge of the next generation. Meanwhile, another of Zverev’s age grade, Dominic Thiem of Austria, prevailed in his match against Benoit Paire of France, 6/1; 4/6; 6/4; 6/4 to advance to the fourth round.