22 Jan 2017

German teenager pushes Nadal to his limits

6:05 am on 22 January 2017

Rafa Nadal held off a fierce challenge from one of the hottest prospects in the game when he outlasted German teenager Alexander Zverev 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2 to reach the last 16 of the Australian Open.

Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal.

Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Spaniard, champion here in 2009, needed to be at his resilient best to come out on top after more than four hours of top quality shot-making and thrilling rallies which earned both players a huge ovation from the Rod Laver Arena crowd.

The 19-year-old Zverev showed in spades why many consider him a future grand slam champion but was just unable to stay with the uber-fit 30-year-old in a gripping deciding set.

"Everybody knows how good Alexander is, he's the future of our sport and the present too," said Nadal, who reached the fourth round for the 10th time in 12 appearances at Melbourne Park.

"Today was a great battle, I am very happy to be through. It was an important result for me as I've lost my last couple of matches in the fifth."

Returning to Melbourne Park as ninth seed after curtailing his 2016 season because of injury, Nadal will next face Gael Monfils of France as he bids for a 15th grand slam title.

Meanwhile Milos Raonic's machine-like advance through the Australian Open hit a brief glitch against Gilles Simon but the Canadian re-booted to delete the dogged Frenchman 6-2 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3 and reach the fourth round.

The third seed, who revealed he has been suffering from a "bad fever", lost his first set of the tournament against the indefatigable Simon, whose hard running and sublime passing shots threatened to turn the game on its head.

19.06.2015. London, England. Queens Aegon Championship Tennis. Milos Raonic (CAN) versus Gilles Simon (FRA), Quarter Final match. Milos Raonic in action

Milos Raonic in action Photo: Photosport

The big-serving Canadian drowned out the Gallic cheers by capturing the decisive break in the sixth game of the fourth set and sealed the match with a big kicking serve to set up a clash with Spanish 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

"I've had a rough last 48 hours, everything was aching, just sort of those kind of symptoms," said Raonic.

"I'm managing it. I'm sure I'll probably get something after today's match."

Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach the semi-finals in Melbourne last year and backed it up with his first grand slam final at Wimbledon in his best season to date.

His chances of blazing a trail to a maiden final in Melbourne were handed a huge boost when Uzbek journeyman Denis Istomin knocked out six-times champion Novak Djokovic in the second round. That upset has left Raonic as the highest seed left in the lower half of the draw.

Raonic has long been tagged a grand slam contender and he looked the part early on against Simon, mowing through the first set in 28 minutes and showing impressive composure to fend off the 25th seed in a tense tiebreak in the second.

The 26-year-old stumbled in the third as he gave up two breaks of serve but refused to put it down to two days battling illness catching up with him.

"He started playing a bit more aggressive, I became a little bit too passive," Raonic said.

"It was more just a dip in sort of dictating. It wasn't a physical dip of any kind."