Nadal proves there's life in old champ yet
TENNIS: Alexander Zverev is near the head of the queue of what they call the "next generation" of men's tennis.
But Rafael Nadal last night proved there is still life in the old guard yet, winning an epic encounter over the 19-year-old German 4-6 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
The 198cm Zverev produced some stunning power tennis, ripping through the first set and also winning what appeared would be a defining third set tiebreak.
But 30-year-old Nadal, a 14-time grand slam champion, refused to be beaten.
Doubts as to whether Zverev could prevail over five sets were accentuated in the fifth game of the final set when his right leg cramped.
Serving, he was broken in that game and then at the change of ends he did not sit down, instead receiving treatment from the trainer.
And while the 24th-seeded teen - the youngest player inside the world's top 50 - continued to battle manfully, Nadal ultimately prevailed in four hours, six minutes, with the fifth set arguably producing the most gripping tennis of the match.
The match's 8.12pm finish time set back the Centre Court program, which included Australia's Daria Gavrilova, by almost two hours.
Nadal, the ninth seed, has not won a major since the 2014 French Open.
The 2009 Australian Open winner was bundled out in the first round here last year.
He has been afflicted by knee and wrist injuries in recent times, so Saturday's win, he said, was a big one.
He next plays Gael Monfils tomorrow.
"For the confidence, for a lot of things, it was very important to win this match," Nadal said.
"I worked a lot in all of December to have the chances to compete in these kind of moments and even if I start with some nerves I think I play a good game.
"I lost the third (set) in the tiebreak, but in my opinion I was playing better than him in the third. But his serve was huge.
"That was a tough set for me, but mentally I stayed very positive throughout the whole match and in terms of physical performance I felt great."
The Spaniard only hit 43 winners to Zverev's 58, but crucially the veteran kept his unforced error count to 34 as opposed to his younger opponent's 74.
Still, Zverev remained upbeat when addressing a packed throng of international media in the wake of his defeat, saying: "I think it's going to be an exciting year for me".
"Even now, I'm disappointed, but I know that this was a great match," Zverev said.
"It was a great fight. There's a lot of positives.
"He's probably one of the fittest players in the history of the game. I wanted to win, I could have won, it's disappointing, but I'm fine about it actually."