Rafael Nadal vs. Alexander Zverev Jr.: Score, Reaction from 2017 Australian Open

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2017

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after a point against Germany's Alexander Zverev during their men's singles third round match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2017. / AFP / PETER PARKS / IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE        (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)
PETER PARKS/Getty Images

No. 9 seed Rafael Nadal survived a major third-round scare from Alexander Zverev to book his place in the last 16 of the Australian Open.

In a five-set thriller, the Spaniard came from 2-1 down to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 and set up a clash with Gael Monfils.

Zverev was lauded as a worthy challenger for Nadal entering Saturday's tilt, and he proved that label wasn't a fluke from the opening game. 

The 19-year-old broke Nadal on the Spaniard's first service game of the first set, and he took a quick 2-0 lead to make it clear he wouldn't back down in the face of greatness, according to Metro's George Bellshaw: 

The German proceeded to nab the first set 6-4, and the early statement was made possible by some tactics worthy of a veteran, as ESPN's Brad Gilbert observed:

Nadal, though, responded by imposing his will and dictating pace with a 6-3 second set. The world's ninth-ranked player was particularly impressive with his defense as he repeatedly extended rallies and forced Zverev to scamper from side to side in order to stay afloat. 

The New York Times' Christopher Clarey noted longer points did not benefit the youngster: 

The third set was one of those that looked absolutely crucial to the outcome of the match, and both players were understandably sketchy from the outset.

But despite the many shaky moments, Zverev and Nadal managed to hold on to their respective service games throughout the set to tee up a mouth-watering tiebreak.

The mini breaks came thick and fast in the showdown, though, as the pendulum swung both ways throughout.

However, it was the young German who kept his cool to triumph 7-5 and move into a 2-1 lead. As ESPN India remarked, it was clear that he knew the significance of securing the set:

Nadal knew something had to be done or he'd be joining Novak Djokovic on the high-profile Australian Open casualty list, and he duly responded with a solid set.

Having impressively broken Zverev in the second game to turn the momentum his way, Nadal went on to secure a 6-3 set and send the match into a decider.

Zverev couldn't handle his opponent's newfound aggression, which certainly bumped up the entertainment factor. Journalist Deji Kofi Faremi looked forward to the fifth set:

Even though the German proved a more-than-worthy adversary for Nadal throughout the match, he just seemed to run out of steam in the decider.

He surrendered three of his four service games to put the ball very much in Nadal's court, and the Spaniard duly accepted his generosity to rack up a 6-2 victory and end Zverev's battle.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21:  Alexander Zverev of Germany celebrates winning the third set in his third round match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on day six of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The German is one of the most exciting youngsters on the circuit right now, and he'll take plenty of encouragement from taking Nadal all the way.

The 2009 champion, meanwhile, can breathe a huge sigh of relief. He finally found his touch in the closing two sets of the match, but at times he looked in a lot of trouble.

He'll need to be a lot more solid to see off the challenge of Monfils in the next round before the possibility of taking on third seed Milos Raonic beckons.

Reaction

Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Following the match, Nadal said he had to dig very deep to see off Zverev, who he then went on to brandish "the future and present" of tennis, per BBC Sport:

I won by fighting and running a lot. I think everybody knows how good Alexander is. He's the future of our sport and the present too. 

It's been a very tough match for me. I didn't start playing my best and I was not feeling very well because I was losing too much court. When I felt I was feeling better I had more time to control from the baseline.

It was a close one but he deserved to play a little more aggressive than me. I had to fight for every point.

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