Australian Open Journal and Results Day Six: The Present is awesome and the Future is bright

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Alexander Zverev. (Wikimedia Commons)

The third round is over, and that makes this the last Journal and Results update from me (go on, cheer, you know you want to!) How fitting, then, that the best match of the 2017 Australian Open thus far was played on Day Six.

Here are the results, and my takes on them.

ROD LAVER ARENA

Ekaterina Makarova [30] d. Dominika Cibulkova [6] 6-2 6-7(3) 6-3

It was an unpredictable clash between two women who have brought their best Grand Slam performances to Melbourne in times past. Lefty Russian Makarova survives to face the woman who upended her in the quarter-finals last season.

Serena Williams [2] d. Nicole Gibbs 6-1 6-3

This one already feels like a century ago. Gibbs frankly did not have the weapons to test Williams, who was dialled in from the word ‘Go’ and made it six of six sets won in the merry old land of Oz. The only thing that might concern to Serena is the fact that she needlessly – and messily – dropped serve as she attempted to claim a 6-1 6-2 triumph. On the other hand, the American tends to lift her game when she really needs to. Today, she did not need to. Simple as that.

Rafael Nadal [9] d. Alexander Zverev [24] 4-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3 6-2

The Present versus the Future, playing lights-out tennis on one of the biggest stages in the game, displaying a desire and passion and sheer quality that left tears in the eyes of some at the end of the match.

These match takes are supposed to be short. To fully explain how awesome, how emotional, how dramatic this blockbuster collision was, however, requires more than a short synopsis. It simply does not suffice.

Honestly, I thought that Alexander Zverev would win this match after he came out all guns blazing to break Nadal in the first game of the first set. Reflecting his tremendous rise of last season, the German proved once more – after wins over Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in 2016 – that he has the game and the mentality to go toe-to-toe with the game’s greatest from the words “Ready? Play!” In my mind, as it went down the wire, it was simple. If the more experienced Rafael Nadal did not take this to five sets, he was going to lose.

Well, so I thought. Nadal, of course, did win in five sets, but the way he composed himself and the fashion in which he struck the ball throughout this encounter was first class. A*. Phenomenal. As the man himself said after the match, he had emerged the loser from all his recent five-set clashes, during a tumultuous two seasons that had seen him face zoning opposition at the worst of times. As well as he had played against Marcos Baghdatis in round two, a loss here could have crushed him.

But the old mentality – the mentality that has seen the Spaniard to 14 Grand Slam titles – seems restored to its full former glory. For the four hours plus that these two men spent locked in battle, Nadal was constantly adapting his game to the occasion, meticulously setting up points until he could blast the final winner – and doing so with devastating consistency. When his potent forehand to the Zverev backhand was crushed like a flower beneath a shoe, he invested his efforts in mixing up his serve, and slicing relentless backhands. When Zverev forced out four straight service holds in the third set, Nadal did not flinch as he held four times to level. And when the German edged what looked to be a crucial tiebreak, taking a two sets to one lead, Nadal stepped on the gas – against a youngster who looked as though he suddenly did not know what to do – and never quite let go of his slight advantage. He broke serve in the first game of the fourth set, and exactly when he needed to, he did the same to open the decider.

Even when Zverev – who at times overpowered and overwhelmed his legendary opponent, and never stopped going for low-margin angles and blistering winners – began cramping in the final set, having got the break back and won a 37-stroke rally, it was not the defining factor of the match. In the closing stages, Nadal’s head was in too good a place – his thoughts almost audible, his concentration tangible – for him to be beaten today. Rarely did he falter in lengthy rallies, and his serve was potent when it needed to be.

It’s a gutting result for Alexander Zverev, whose young body could not quite handle the intensity of a five set thriller against an all-time great at this stage of his career. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most important triumphs of Rafael Nadal’s career. He turned the tables to claim a victory he might have failed to grasp just 12 months ago. This is massive for his confidence. And while he has by no means averted danger, this was perhaps the biggest test that lurked in his section prior to the Australian Open final.

Bravo to both competitors. That was an epic in the truest sense of the word.

Daria Gavrilova [22] d. Timea Bacsinszky [12] 6-3 5-7 6-4

After a string of upsets, Gavrilova’s 2016 run at the Aussie Open ended tearfully in the fourth round, as she lost to no. 10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro after having won a 6-0 first set. But on Monday she will have a chance to make amends, following a three set dismissal of Bacsinszky – who becomes her second-highest ranked Melbourne victim. World no. 7 Petra Kvitova was her biggest scalp last season, and she will have to better that if she is to make her maiden Melbourne quarter-final. World no. 5 Karolina Pliskova awaits.

Grigor Dimitrov [15] d. Richard Gasquet [18] 6-3 6-2 6-4

The Bulgarian emphasises the fact that he is a force to be reckoned with en route to another danger-less win. He’s dropped a single set en route to a fourth round meeting with Novak Djokovic.

Sorry, I mean Denis Istomin.

MARGARET COURT ARENA

Barbora Strycova [16] d. Carolina Garcia [21] 6-2 7-5

Honestly, I forgot Garcia – once tipped for the world no. 1 spot by Andy Murray – was still in the singles draw. Well, she’s not any more! Strycova – known for her ability to wind the elite up – gets a shot at Serena next. The America has dropped just ten games during their previous two meetings combined – although they did come way back in 2012.

Dominic Thiem [8] d. Benoit Paire 6-1 4-6 6-4 6-4

Thiem flies when he’s having fun.

(See what I did there? No? Okay…)

For the third time in a row, the Austrian – who, another reminder, entered this tournament on extremely iffy ground – comes through a match in four sets. Three sets dropped in three rounds? That does not matter. Recent form says the 23-year-old was not really supposed to have made the last 16, and every step brings more confidence to the most tennis-obsessed guy on tour. No. 11 seed David Goffin awaits.

Johanna Konta [9] d. Caroline Wozniacki [17] 6-3 6-1

This is the stage where it is no longer way out to call Konta a title contender. The 25-year-old has family living in Mebourne, and it’s certainly starting to look like her tennis home. Her thrashing of Wozniacki – who appeared in decent form – lasted a mere one hour and 15 minutes. Nevertheless, to jump ahead to a potential quarter-final showdown with Serena is to make a big mistake. Makarova is no pushover (although she could well be pushed over by Monday evening.)

Gael Monfils [6] d. Philipp Kohlschreiber [32] 6-3 7-6(1) 6-4

The weirdest of weird tennis occurrences continues. Last season, hot-and-cold Monfils had a relatively consistent year. At the Australian Open, he has dropped just one set over three matches – a big achievement for the Frenchman who has often flamed out at the most random of times.

He may be more rested than fourth round opponent Nadal, but the Spaniard dominates their rivalry by 12 wins to two.

Karolina Pliskova [5] d. Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 6-0 10-8

Ostapenko and her firepower nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the day, but the Latvian admitted to completely tightening up while leading 5-2 with a double break in the deciding set. Still, the often-dramatic 19-year-old took it well – whilst in-form Pliskova was pleased to escape with victory. Coming out the right end of this fight could aid her mentality further down the line.

HISENSE ARENA

Milos Raonic [3] d. Gilles Simon [25] 6-2 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3

The Canadian was made to pay for surrendering his break advantage in the third set, but not the highest price. All in all, this was something of a comfortable victory over a man with an ability to make opponents feel distinctly uncomfortable. Just ask the current world no. 2.

ALSO…

Jennifer Brady d. Elena Vesnina [15] 7-6(4) 6-2

I’m pretty sure I had never heard of qualifier Jennifer Brady before this week. Either the 21-year-old or unseeded Mirjana Lucic-Baroni – a three-set victor over Greece’s Maria Sakkari – will be a maiden quarter-finalist in Melbourne.

Not bad for a debuting world no. 116 with no profile picture on the WTA website.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni d. Maria Sakkari 3-6 6-2 6-3

An unfortunate end for the vivacious Sakkari, but Lucic-Baroni looks set to be a Grand Slam’s feel-good story once again. Good for the 34-year-old Croatian!

Denis Istomin d. Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 4-6 6-4 4-6 6-2

Swimming in unfamiliar waters, I would imagine the Uzbekistani’s motivational song goes along the lines of: “Just keep win-ning, just keep win-ning…”

Roberto Bautista Agut [13] d. David Ferrer [21] 7-5 6-7(6) 7-6(3) 6-4

Salute to Ferrer! He excelled expectations (even with a third round showing), and made this one close. Bautista Agut has Raonic next.

*

Thanks for reading! Naturally, I want to know your thoughts on Rafael Nadal versus Alexander Zverev, and anything else you noticed from Day Six. Sound off in the comments section!

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