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The Draw: 24 June

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Saturday 21 January 2017 10:16 AM GMT
Australian Open Day 6: Nadal outlasts Zverev as Serena, Konta impress rounds up the action from Day 6 at the 2017 Australian Open. READ MORE

There is always a moment, in every sport, where the changing of the guard takes place, the handing over of the torch from one generation to the next. That day was not today. 

Rafael Nadal, muscles rippling in the early evening sunshine, stared down Sascha Zverev, the best of the young players on tour, took everything he had to throw at him and put him away in a pulsating five-setter on Rod Laver Arena, finally winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 after four hours, six minutes of sheer entertainment.

How did he do it? “Fighting and running a lot,” he said.

“I think everybody knows how good Alexander is, he is a future of our sport, and the present too. It was a very tough match for me. I didn’t start my best and I was losing too much court. He played more aggressive in the tiebreak. After the tiebreak I said to myself I need to fight for every point, forget about the result and that’s what I tried.”

It was both a reminder that Nadal, the 14-time Grand Slam champion making his way back from injury, still has plenty to give, even at the age of 30 and with thousands of miles in his legs.

Zverev hasn't clocked that sort of distance, but while the mind was willing throughout, the body wasn't, with the young German suffering cramps after winning a breathtaking - literally - 37 shot rally at 2-2 in the decider.

While the Spaniard lost that particular battle, he soon accelerated away from a tiring Zverev to win the war, but this was nonetheless a sign that the 19-year-old, while still raw, is on the cusp of becoming something special.

The pair embraced at the net after Zverev’s final forehand found the net and the Spaniard acknowledged just how rough a ride he had been given.

In the end, Nadal was the stronger, physically and mentally, and his victory means he is through to the last 16 once more. With a fourth-round clash to come against Gael Monfils or Philippe Kohlschreiber, Nadal looks confident but knows nothing is for granted.

“You cannot pretend to be in the fourth round of the Australian Open and have an easy opponent,” he said. “But today was a big battle and I am very happy to go through.”

Serene Serena 

Three down, four to go for Serena Williams as she chases a record 23rd Grand Slam singles title, and her 6-1, 6-3 win over fellow American Nicole Gibbs as comfortable as the scoreline would suggest. 

But things may soon get tougher for Williams, the second seed this year, for she now faces in-form Czech Barbora Strycova, with Britain’s Jo Konta a potential opponent in the last eight.

For now, though, Williams is happy with her form. “I feel like I have been able to do pretty good. I have been doing the things I have been doing in practice, and hopefully I can build up on this.”

Konta, a semi-finalist last year and now firmly established in the top 10, crushed Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1, leaving the former world No.1 to make a bold claim. “I think if she keeps playing like this, then she has good chances against Serena.

"Obviously Serena is a champion, has won so many grand Slams. She's been in tough positions. But I think Johanna is playing on a very high level right now.”

First up for Konta, though, will be Ekaterina Makarova, who beat sixth seed Dominika Cibulkova in three sets.

Around the Grounds

Denis Istomin followed up his shock win over Novak Djokovic with a five-set triumph over Pablo Carreno-Busta of Spain while eighth seed Dominic Thiem saw off Benoit Paire of France in four. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her dream run with victory over Maria Sakkari.

Quote of the day

“I was losing the last couple of times in the fifth set so I said to myself, today’s the day.” Rafael Nadal after his battling win over Zverev.

Shock of the day

And a home one, too. Australians Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua, both coming back to Grand Slam level after absences for different reasons, took out the No.5 seeds Martina Hingis and Coco Vandeweghe 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the women’s doubles.

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