Rafael Nadal passes Karen Khachanov test to reach Australian Open fourth round

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Rafael Nadal Australian Open - REUTERS
Rafael Nadal Australian Open - REUTERS

Rafael Nadal dropped his first set of the Australian Open but recovered to defeat Karen Khachanov and reach the fourth round in Melbourne for a 15th time.

Nadal went into the match boasting a 7-0 record against Russian Khachanov and having lost just one set.

The Spaniard, who has looked sharp despite his lengthy absence with a foot problem last season, eased through the first two sets under the lights on Rod Laver Arena but Khachanov threatened to turn the match on its head when he took the third.

However, Nadal moved ahead again early in the fourth, celebrating exuberantly when he broke serve, and went on to claim a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 victory.

The sixth seed was very happy with his performance, saying: "It's a very special week for me coming back from where I'm coming. Every single time I'm able to play here is a very special thing.

"Tonight I played against a great player and a good friend on tour. It has been without a doubt my best match since I came back. Nights like today mean everything. It's a lot of energy in my pocket to keep fighting every single day."

The match of the day came earlier on Rod Laver, when seventh seed Matteo Berrettini held off a surging fightback from 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz to win on a deciding tie-break.

Alcaraz is the most exciting young talent in the game and has been improving at such a rate that he was considered by many to be a favourite for this match against the Wimbledon finalist.

Berrettini weathered an early storm and seemed to have the match entirely under control when he took the second set but back came Alcaraz to force a decider.

Nothing could separate the pair until the deciding first-to-10-points tie-break, when Berrettini finally clinched a 6-2, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (5) victory after four hours and 10 minutes.

The Italian heaped praise on his opponent afterwards, saying: "He's unbelievable. At his age I didn't even have an ATP point. He's impressive. He can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everyone today his potential - luckily today I won, but congrats to him."

Alcaraz was not downhearted, saying: "I'm very proud of the performance today. It was my first time two sets down, and then to be able to come back the way I did, I gave everything on the court.

"I think I have the level to play against the top players. I'm getting close, getting closer every tournament that I'm playing."

In the last 16 Berrettini will take on another Spaniard, 19th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, who defeated Sebastian Korda in four sets.

Third seed Alexander Zverev has gone under the radar so far but he eased to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Radu Albot.

"I'm through the first week without losing a set," said the German. "I think that's always very positive. I'm still quite full of energy, which is good for me going into the next matches."

Zverev next meets Denis Shapovalov, who overcame giant American Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, while 17th seed Gael Monfils continued his excellent start to the season by beating Cristian Garin 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-3 and will face surprise package Miomir Kecmanovic.

Nadal beats Khachanov 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1: How match unfolded

01:31 PM

Nadal marches on

A tough defeat for Khachanov who played some of his best ever tennis in that third set. But Nadal weathered the storm and found another gear in the fourth set to wrap up victory and move into the fourth round of the 2022 Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal embraces Russia's Karen Khachanov  - REUTERS
Rafael Nadal embraces Russia's Karen Khachanov - REUTERS

01:29 PM

More from Nadal

I didn't think much about the opponent much tonight, I thought in the first two matches I was a bit too far from the baseline. I was not able to push them back. I wanted to try to go inside. If I'm able to put some returns inside from that position, it makes me feel more alive, dynamic and then I can take advantage with the next shot.

On where he ever had doubts about coming back?

Every single day. For a lot of months I tried to go on court but sometimes I was not able to practice for more than 20 minutes. It was very difficult to predict every single day. I was working with the doctor to try and find a solution.

The injuries are much easier to accept when you know the agenda. With the foot injury, it was much tougher. You go every day in the gym and on the court without improvement. Mentally that is much tougher. I don't know what is going to happen but I'm enjoying being back.

01:23 PM

Job done for Nadal

01:21 PM

Nadal speaks

It's a very special week for me, coming back from where I'm coming from, it's very special.

Karen is a great player. That was my best match without a doubt since I came back. I wish him well.

I have been going through some very tough time the last year and a half. But today means everything. Me, my team and my family, to be back where I am today, it means everything.

01:19 PM

Nadal beats Khachanov 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-1

Nadal wants a bit of sweat removed from the court as he tries to serve out in style. Khachanov goes long on the return and suddenly three match points Nadal.

He takes it with the very first opportunity, throwing down a huge serve that is just too good for his gutsy opponent.

01:17 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 3-6 5-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

It's getting a bit rowdy in the crowd as we tick into the early hours. But it's not enough to put Nadal off his stride, as he goes after the Russian.

A remarkable passing forehand winner from deep behind the baseline earns him the double break, and moves him within touching distance of the next round.

01:08 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-6 4-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal has been in this position endless times in his career. He stays on the gas, big serves and big shots applying the pressure, and drawing the errors from the Khachanov racket.

Khachanov's movement is drastically reduced even if he is still swinging at 0-40 down. Nadal goes in for the kill, a booming overhead smash into the empty court wrapping up a hold to love.

01:04 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 3-6 3-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov is somewhat muted currently, and little wonder. He threw everything at Nadal to get the match to a fourth set and now he's 3-0 down suddenly.

Another lucky net cord moment for 30-15 will lift him but once again he's having to try and defend a Nadal cross-court forehand. 30-30.

Nadal slices his return long and then Khachanov fires off a forehand winner for a gutsy hold. He's still in this, just.

12:58 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-6 3-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Could that be the key break? Nadal was under the cosh in that previous game but pulled out all the stops defensively before spinning into attack mode. That has got to hurt Khachanov mentally.

Three consecutive points lost by the Russian is not a good sign, but Nadal throws him a helpful gift with a double fault.

It's only a temporary reprieve, however, with Nadal making no mistake on the next serve.

12:55 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 3-6 2-0 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Nadal is a man who loves everything to perfection, so him knocking over his water bottle at the changeover will no doubt not have gone done well. Ten minutes from midnight over in Melbourne and there could be plenty more tennis left in this match yet.

Nadal goes for aggression off the Khachanov serve to get back to 30-30. He then runs all the way round the ball to unleash a deadly cross-court forehand winner. A 13th break point of the match.

Khachanov replies with his own forehand winner to save it but there is too much zip on the next and it's another break point.

Nadal gets it now! It's an incredible passing shot on the run, he has absolutely no right to win the point but manages to squeeze it in the space up the line. He loved that.

12:49 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-6 1-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

This match is delicately poised - how much more has Khachanov got left and will Nadal serving first in the set have an impact? The Spaniard holds relatively easily to kick us off.

12:42 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 3-6 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

It shows the confidence of Khachanov currently that he's happy to engage in a gruelling long rally. He succeeds and then follows up wih an ace.

A massive slice of luck for the Russian when his backhand spins over the net off the net cord. Three set points. A booming serve does the business with Nadal unable to return. We're heading to a fourth set!

Karen Khachanov - AP
Karen Khachanov - AP

12:39 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 3-5 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal moves 30-0 up before Khachanov nearly splits the ball apart such was the ferociousness of that forehand winner into the corner. Nadal, unmoved, holds and will make Khachanov serve for the set.

12:33 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 2-5 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov, after powering a backhand winner down the line, is left hopping in frustration on the next after netting from close range.

He's back on track on the next and then Nadal is unable to return a big serve for two game points.

Terrific tennis! Nadal goes for the lob, the Russian manages to get all the way back to it but his opponent is already waiting at the net to cover.

Another big serve helps to wrap up the game. Khachanov is a game away from winning just his second ever set from Nadal!

Rafael Nadal - AP
Rafael Nadal - AP

12:29 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 2-4 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

This is a right tussle now, Khachanov piling the pressure on Nadal. The Spanird chucks in a double fault on the first before coming in to the net early on the next for 15-15. Khachanov cannot find the line with his backhand but then he draws level at 30-30. And there's another Nadal double fault for break point. A brief pause as the umpire reminds the crowd of etiquette towards the server.

Nadal saves but he's facing another break point quick as a flash. Khachanov looks to have reached the drop shot but he cannot clear the net. And here's a third break point! Nadal digs deep into the defensive reserves to save.

An assured forehand gives him the advantage and then a big serve is too hot for Khachanov.

12:21 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 1-4 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Breaking is one thing, can the Russian now consolidate it? Nadal edges ahead at 0-15 and it looks like Khachanov is going to level with the court gaping and Nadal out of position but he nets! Much, much better net work on the next rally for 15-30. Oh no, this is a rollercoaster of a game! An unforced error brings up two break back points Nadal.

A short Nadal return is punished by Khachanov for a winner. And there's another booming forehand for deuce! Khachanov has Nadal on the run, and just needs to land the ball the right side of the tramlines but he misses. Break point Nadal.

Fabulous from both men! Nadal keeps repelling everything Khachanov is throwing at him but eventually the Russian succeeds at the net. A Nadal backhand is wayward and then Khackanov, grunting with every shot, forces another error from the Spaniard. What a hold.

12:12 PM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 1-3 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal's luck is in at the minute, his volley kissing the net cord and landing safely. He holds his hand up to Khachanov but that won't change the fact he has three game points.

Khachanov rips a forehand winner down the line and then Nadal's volley at the net fails to make it to the other side of the court. He's wide on the next and suddenly we're at deuce.

A big roar from Khachanov after a superb cross-court backhand winner brings up just his second break point of the match.

He does it! A lacklustre forehand from Nadal crashes into the net. It's no less than the Russian deserves.

12:04 PM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 1-2 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov is hanging in here, his 13th ace of the match moving him to 30-0. Nadal has a little nibble at 30-15 but Khachanov bides his time on a hefty old rally on the next, going toe-to-toe with Nadal before finally getting the angle right with his forehand winner. The shot malfunctions on the next and then it's deuce when Khachanov rushes his backhand.

A bruising rally, as Khachanov is pulled this way and that and then forced up to the net following a Nadal drop-shot. He manages to reach it too, but Nadal cleans up on the next shot. Break point.

Saved! Khachanov goes for broke with his shots, finding the extreme edge of the baseline and then following up with a volleyed winner. Relief for Khachanov as two consecutive Nadal errors gives him the hold.

11:57 AM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 1-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Khachanov draws a cheer from the crowd as he heads a stray ball towards the ball boy. He gets an even better response a few shots later, when the Russian wins the battle of the baseline, overpowering Nadal with a forehand winner into the corner for 15-30.

Nadal, relentless as ever, responds with a smashed winner and then wraps up the game when Khachanov is unable to return serve.

11:53 AM

Nadal* 6-3 6-2 0-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

The comeback needs to start here for Khachanov, with an ace a good way to start. It's a sign of things to come, too, as he wraps up a relatively comfortable hold to get on the board for the third set.

11:49 AM

Closer than the set scoreline suggests

Khachanov is not playing badly here, the trouble is that, like so many before him, he is up against a certain Rafael Nadal. He did at least manage to cause a bit more damage against the Spaniard that set.

11:46 AM

Nadal 6-3 6-2 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

New balls in play for Nadal, who is serving for a two-set lead. He swots away a short ball on the first before an energy sapping rally on the next. Khachanov manages to get the upper hand from the baseline, though, and Nadal can onl direct his backhand wide of the tramlines.

Take that! Nadal opens up the angle superbly off the forehand when the ball again comes back short. Khachanov is wayward again and Nadal has two set points.

Khachanov concedes on the very first, when he is only able to return Nadal's serve into the net.

11:41 AM

Nadal* 6-3 5-2 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Ace. Ace. Ace - Khachanov is determined to make Nadal serve for this set...

And there's a fourth ace in a row. Not many people can say they've done that to Rafael Nadal on Rod Laver Arena!

Karen Khachanov - SHUTTERSTOCK
Karen Khachanov - SHUTTERSTOCK

11:40 AM

Nadal 6-3 5-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal is having to work much harder this set, especially when a double fault gives Khachanov a look in at 30-15 before the Spaniard replies with an ace for 30-30. The game goes to deuce when Nadal is long on his return and then up comes game point.

The serve wobbles slightly again but he makes it on the second attempt, his backhand back behind the scrambling Khachanov wrapping things up.

11:36 AM

Nadal* 6-3 4-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov to serve, buoyed by his level over the last few games. Ah, any confidence drains out of him when Nadal races to three break points after another backhand winner. Khachanov tries to stop the rot valiantly but Nadal wraps it up at the second time of asking to earn a double break.

11:29 AM

Nadal 6-3 3-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

What have we here? A double fault on the Nadal serve. No trouble, Nadal responds with a whipped forehand winner and then swiftly moves to 40-15. But alas, another double fault, even the commentator sounds surprised.

Absolutely superb defensive work from Khachanov. He stumbles on the baseline after deflecting Nadal's serve back, but the Russian manages to still scamper to the opposite side and wrap a backhand winner up the line.

The next rally is even more impressive, 30 shots of high-class tennis, that ends when Nadal's attempted drop-shot hits the net. A first break point of the match for Khachanov.

Nadal delivers a forehand winner at exactly the right time, an unforced error from Khachanov follows, and then Nadal serve volleys to wrap up the hold. Khachanov, superb as he was, ends up with nothing.

11:20 AM

Nadal* 6-3 2-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov is at least winning on one count today, that of aces. A sixth of the match moves him to 30-15 before he forces an error off the Nadal racket and then wraps up the hold.

11:18 AM

Nadal 6-3 2-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

How much is that effort - and subsequent loss of service game - going to hurt Khachanov? He does at least manage two points but it is business as usual on the Nadal serve.

11:11 AM

Nadal* 6-3 1-0 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Broken in his very first service game of the match, Khachanov needs to hold here to get back on track. Instead he falls 15-40 down and faces two break points.

The first is saved following a rare forehand error off the baseline from Nadal. Khachanov then unloads booming forehand after forehand at his opponent before coming ino the net. The atttempted passing shot from Nadal is wide so it's deuce.

This is comfortably the longest game of the match as Khachanov brings up four game points but cannot convert, twice throwing in double faults. An ace but again Nadal wins the next point.

And then it's Nadal's chance to turn the screw, the first break point is missed but he makes it on the second when Khachanov's backhand misfires. Nadal breaks after an absolutely mammoth game.

10:55 AM

Nadal 6-3 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

I jinxed him, sorry... Nadal loses his first point on serve of the entire set, pushing his forehand return long. Khachanov is being rushed into every shot and two consecutive forehands land the wrong side of the lines.

Nadal's trusty forehand down the line brings up two set points. Just the one required, a big serve proving too much to handle for his opponent. Mightily impressive from the Spaniard.

Rafael Nadal - AFP
Rafael Nadal - AFP

10:51 AM

Nadal* 5-3 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

Khachanov is trying to make a dent with his service game, and moves to 30-0 when Nadal goes long. A rare forehand miss from the baseline from Nadal when the ball skips up. Three game points and he just needs the one! Sealed with an ace. Can Nadal wrap up the set without dropping a single point? Let's see.

10:49 AM

Nadal 5-2 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

The pattern continues for Nadal on serve with yet another love service hold. Even with Khachanov gettting a few returns back in play, Nadal is supreme at the other end, wrapping up the game with a forehand into the empty court after getting his opponent on the run. He's one game away from the opening set.

10:45 AM

Nadal* 4-2 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

With Khachanov not able to get a look in on the Nadal serve yet, he needs to at least be keeping the pressure on with his own service game. A fist pump at 15-0 but Nadal unleashes his trademark forehand down the line for 15-15.

Opting to serve-volley does the trick for the Russian and then an ace brings up two game points. But he's short with his return and Nadal wrong-foots the world No 30. Khachanov regains his composure and wraps up the hold when Nadal nets.

10:41 AM

Nadal 4-1 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal opens with an ace and follows it up with another rasping effort which skids up off the line and forces Khachanov to return long. Khachanov somehow manages to get his racket to a swinging serve down the tee but Nadal will eat up short balls all day and quickly dispatches another winner. Smart approach play at the net wraps up the game.

Nadal yet to drop a point on serve.

10:38 AM

Nadal* 3-1 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

A crucial confidence boosting game for Khachanov. The Russian almost holds to love with a backhand winner from Nadal the only blot on that game. He's stopped the rot and is on the scoreboard.

10:34 AM

Nadal 3-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Nadal's serve doing some early damage. Actually most of the Spaniard's weapons are fully loaded and working well so far. Even an overhead smash straight down the line. He wraps up the game on the next when Khachanov goes long with his forehand to make it 12 of the first 13 points won in this match.

10:31 AM

Nadal* 2-0 Khachanov (*denotes next server)

What can the Russian reply with? His serve is functioning well enough but the range is just not quite there yet on the groundstrokes, with a couple of early errors.

Another Khachanov return skips up off the net cord but Nadal is there quick as a flash to swot away with the backhand for three break points.

The first is saved but then Nadal unleashes another thundering backhand winner, this time from the baseline, to earn the break. Just the one point for the Russian across the two games.

10:28 AM

Nadal 1-0 Khachanov* (*denotes next server)

Warm ups done and it's Nadal to serve first in the match. The perfect start for the Spaniard with a comfortable hold to love and an ace thrown in for good measure.

10:24 AM

Nadal in Melbourne

Rafael Nadal famously has 20 grand slams to his name but just the one win here in Melbourne, back in 2009 when he beat Roger Federer in a five-set epic. How he'd love to add to that tally this year.

Rafael Nadal - EPA
Rafael Nadal - EPA

10:19 AM

Players on court

Nadal is in a purple shirt, white short combo with an aqua blue headband while Khachanov is sporting two differing shades of red on his clothing and a white cap.

Nadal energetically skipping about all over the place as they go through the pre-match formalities and begin to knock up.

10:03 AM

Not long to wait now

Home favourite Ashleigh Barty has just wrapped up a straight sets win over Camila Giorgi on Rod Laver Arena which means Nadal and Khachanov will be emerging on court shortly for their match.

09:54 AM

Nadal's quest continues

Rafael Nadal is confident he is on the right path ahead of his Australian Open third round match with Karen Khachanov.

Nadal is unbeaten so far this season having cut short his 2021 campaign in August because of a foot problem. He is the only former champion in the men's draw but is currently third favourite behind Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.

On Wednesday German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann put up a good fight on Rod Laver Arena, including saving four match points, but sixth seed Nadal took his fifth chance to clinch a 6-2 6-3 6-4 victory after two hours and 42 minutes.

"I think I am doing things well," said Nadal. "Things that I can improve I have to improve. I want to keep going in the tournament. After two matches it's the moment to make a step forward.

"I'm excited about it. I'm excited about the fact that I'm going to be playing in a third round for one more time here after all the things I am going through.

"I don't have big pressure on my shoulders, honestly. I don't feel it. The pressure is only to stay healthy and to enjoy the fact that I am competing again, then give my best as I did during all my tennis career."

In Khachanov, Nadal will face his fiercest test so far at this year's Australian Open. The former world No 8 dropped the opening set of his Melbourne campaign to Denis Kudla but he has won the last six in a row to reach the third round after an assured display against Benjamin Bonzi.

And while Nadal holds a 7-0 record in their head to head, five of their last six sets from three matches at the 2018 US Open and Indian Wells and the Davis Cup Finals in 2019 have gone to a tie-break. Expect the Russian to ask plenty of questions of Nadal today.

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