Tennis: Nadal repels Khachanov to reach last-16

Rafasel Nadal celebrating after beating Karen Khachanov of Russia at Melbourne Park on Friday. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Sixth seed Rafa Nadal dropped his first set at this year’s Australian Open but still powered through to the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 defeat of Karen Khachanov on Friday (Jan 21).

The Spaniard, seeking to claim a record 21st Grand Slam title in the absence of great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, was sensational as he took a two-set lead.

But Khachanov, seeded 28th, threw caution to the wind in the third set, stalling Nadal’s charge with some ferocious hitting.

Olympic runner-up Khachanov had lost all seven previous meetings with 2009 Australian Open champion Nadal but briefly looked capable of mounting a comeback.

Nadal seized back control with a break of serve at the start of the fourth and with the clock having ticked past midnight he finished off the match in a hurry.

Earlier, world No. 3 Alexander Zverev said that he needs to play even better if he wants to go far at the event as the German chases a maiden Grand Slam crown.

Zverev powered his way into the last 16 with a superb serving display against Moldova’s Radu Albot, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in 1hr 57min in hot conditions.

The Tokyo Olympic gold medallist thundered down 16 aces to put away the 124th-ranked Albot on John Cain Arena.

Zverev will next take on Canada’s 14th seed Denis Shapovalov, whom he leads 4-2 in their series of matches.

“I think from the back of the court I’m playing quite okay,” Zverev, 24, said.

“Today was just very different. It was a lot hotter. The balls were flying a lot more. That’s why maybe I was doing a few more mistakes than usual.”

Zverev is yet to drop a set as he shapes up for a possible quarter-final showdown with Nadal.

“I’m through the first week without losing a set. I think that’s always very positive,” he said.

“I feel I still have plenty of energy, which is good for me going into the next matches."

Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini fought off exciting Spanish youngster Carlos Alcaraz to win a fifth-set tiebreaker and advance to the fourth round of the Australian Open on Friday (Jan 21).

Berrettini, a Wimbledon finalist last year, used all of his experience to down the 18-year-old Alcaraz 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10-5) in 4 hours 10 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

Berrettini will now face either Spanish 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the round of 16.

The Italian paid tribute to the enormous potential of the 31st-ranked Alcaraz, who has been compared to famous compatriot Rafael Nadal at the same age.

"He's unbelievable. I think at his age I didn't even have an ATP (ranking) point," Berrettini said.

"He's impressive, he can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everybody his potential, luckily today I won, but congratulations to him."

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