In the match of the tournament so far, Rafael Nadal edged 19-year-old Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2 in a four-hour epic.
Zverev had four top-10 wins last year and is considered a precocious talent fast on the rise. But in a battle of generations, it was 30-year-old Nadal who showed the old guard was still holding firm at the top of the tennis hierarchy.
In fact, after a marathon 37-shot rally early in the crucial fifth set, Zverev clearly suffered from cramps, suggesting Nadal’s superior physical conditioning may have been the decisive factor.
The match itself lived up to expectations and then some. The shot making was exhilarating, the defensive retrieving was impressive and the emotion was draining.
Zverev started hot, breaking Nadal’s serve in the very first game of the match and duly served out the set.
Nadal showed his gritty character taking the second but Zverev went all-out attack – especially with his heavy backhand – to take the third-set breaker and the upset was on.
But Nadal was in no mood to surrender, taking a relatively quick fourth set as Zverev started to fatigue and attempted to shorten the points.
Just as the German 24th-seed looked gone, he levelled the fifth from 0-2 to 2-2. However, he lost the fifth-game serve after a gruelling rally. The cramp in his legs set in and he didn’t win a game thereafter.
The last of Nadal’s 14 majors came in 2014, and with Roger Federer and Andy Murray on the opposite half of the draw and Novak Djokovic out of his half, this could be a golden opportunity for a Rafa revival.
The man who eliminated Djokovic two days ago, Denis Istomin, backed up his shock win by beating Pablo Carreno Busta, again needing five sets. The Uzbek progresses to the round of 16 for the third time at a major and next faces Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Richard Gasquet convincingly 6-3 6-2 6-4 in a late-night battle of the one-handed backhands.
Third seed Milos Raonic overcame a third-set blip to get past Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets, 6-2 7-6 3-6 6-3. The Canadian was up two sets and a break, but Simon dug deep to win four games in a row and only allowed the big-server one ace for the whole of the fourth set.
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) January 21, 2017
Serena Williams has reached the fourth round without dropping a set. This time fellow American Nicole Gibbs was her victim in a dominant 6-1 6-2 win and she’ll next play Barbora Strycova.
Earlier, Ekaterina Makarova got past 2014 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova after a high-quality third set. Makarova has a reputation as a giant-killer at Melbourne Park, having beaten Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, among others, in years past.
The Russian lefty next faces the challenge of in-form Johanna Konta, who crushed Caroline Wozniacki and was a semi-finalist last year.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 21, 2017
In the night session, Karolina Pliskova got out of jail against Jelena Ostapenko in a match full of momentum swings, displayed by the final scoreline of 4-6 6-0 10-8. At one stage she was down a double-break at 2-5 in the deciding set before her 19-year-old opponent buckled under pressure.
Pliskova, who was the US Open runner-up four months ago, plays Daria Gavrilova in the Round of 16. The Aussie, nicknamed ‘Dasha’, is the last home hope in the singles draw after navigating her way to a three-set win over Timea Bacsinszky.