Rafael Nadal says you can return to the tennis circuit, but you don't really feel back on it until you begin to string wins together. He should know; he has had to specialise in in coming back.
Now he has three n Open wins, the beginning of a string, and the latest, a four-hour five-set come-from-behind outlasting of precocious German neophyte Alexander Zverev, was as good as two in one.
When it was done, Nadal said simply: "Everyone knows how good Alexander is. He is the future of our sport, and the present, too, now." Nadal is the past and the present: this match deserves to be remembered as a famous crossroad.
Nadal says only by stringing together shots and points can you regain the feeling that all is automatic, and that instinct can be trusted, that they will accumulate into winning matches. At first, Zverev seemed intent on denying him this.
In the early going, he beat Nadal variously and almost insouciantly with drop shots, lobs and rasping baseline drives, and every now than a 210 km/h-plus serve, meanwhile showing a 19-year-old's eye for line calls. The match fairly rattled along in a most un-Nadal-like way.
None of this would have surprised Nadal. Zverev is 19, and a soaring 198 centimetres, but with co-ordination, qualities that were once thought to be as irreconcilable as Shane Warne's spin and accuracy. He winds up and delivers like a trebuchet. He is a rare latter-day example of a teenager with game. Pre-match, Nadal paid tribute to him as a future major winner and No. 1. He blazed through the first set.
But there is game, and there is game-day know-how. It doesn't sound like much difference, and it is not, but it is crucial. Zverev fell back in the court a little, and Nadal was happy to rally him there. Twenty-one shots? Twenty-five? Better. Thirty, the longest? Suits me. That is too simple, of course. In four hours of tennis, the dynamics rarely stay the same. Zverev showed that he could throttle back, Nadal that he had all the gears, still. Bit by bit, all his lines came back to him.
At times, Zverev's game still monstered Nadal. Zverev's best shot, his backhand, fed naturally into Nadal's, his forehand, but didn't worry the German. It takes either youthful bravado or supreme ability to spike a weapon by loading it, but that, among much else, is what Zverev did.
But monstering is only one way. Nadal's is equal and opposite. So the match had its pattern, in three sets, an early break and a long, willing play-out, in one, no break at all, but a rousing tiebreaker instead, won by Zverev. In the fifth, as night fell and tiredness set in, the course changed: a break each way, then the effective denouement. Serving at deuce, Zverev won a 37-shot rally, but it sped the onset of cramps in his calves. Nadal won the next three points. He would not yield the lead this time.
At 19, Zverev might wonder what more he has to do. That is the Nadal effect. In truth, all – all! – he has to do is to continue to develop as he is now. He towers over the court already; the game will come to heel. For Nadal, this was two progressions in one, victory, and another work-out.
"Today was a big battle," he said. "I am very happy to get through. I enjoyed very much this battle." You knew he was earnest.
Elsewhere in Melbourne, Andy Murray might have smiled ruefully. With Novak Djokovic out of the way, for the first time, he has a major championship at his mercy. But look: first Roger Federer on Friday night, now Nadal on the middle Saturday, gathering. Federer is notionally No.17, his lowest standing for more than 15 years. Nadal is No. 9, pretty much his humblest rank for 12 years.
Both rankings are injury-affected, of course. Both are on the comeback trail, but how soon? Tomas Berdych says Federer is so back that he'd rather have been watching him from the stands than playing him on Friday night. Nadal was never the irresistible force, but on Saturday's showing, he was and might again be the immovable obstacle.
Now Murray might get one in a semi, the other in a final. In the meantime, on Sunday, he has Zverev's older brother!
Tight finish: Jockey Hugh Bowman on board Olympic Academy. Photo: bradleyphotos苏州夜总会招聘.auWizard of Odds: Live Odds, Form and Alerts for all Racing
Champion jockey Hugh Bowman went within a nose of missing a couple of months – and a ride on Winx in the autumn – as he won on Olympic Academy on Saturday.
Bowman admitted that "he clocked off" in the final couple of strides as Olympic Academy just held a margin over Sabino Speed, and was fined $600 by stewards for failing to ride his mount to the line.
"I don't have to tell you [you] would have missed the start if not most of the autumn carnival if the result was different," chief steward Marc Van Gestel told Bowman.
"No one got a bigger shock than me when Peter Wells said to me pulling [up] that he thought he won," Bowman said.
The champion jockey stated that as Olympic Academy loomed alongside Sabino Speed at the 50m mark, he thought he had a long neck margin as he pleaded guilty to the charge. "It was just a genuine misjudgment," Bowman said. "I didn't misjudge the post, I misjudged how far I was in front and thought I had the other horse beaten.
"I clocked off a stride and half before the post, it was just a mistake."
While Bowman was lucky to keep the race, favourite Liapari continued a bad day for punters as he failed to find a clear run in the straight. Stewards questioned premiership leader Brenton Avdulla about his tactics in the straight.
He had looked to take a run between Sabino Speed and Olympic Academy inside the 200m mark but it shut and the favourite went to the line without being tested in fourth.
"I went for the run and it took him two strides too long to get into it and it shut on him," Avdulla said. He had earlier ridden a double on Exceeds and Montauk to extend his lead in the premiership.
SUPER STAR BOB SUPER
Matt Dale had to change his pre-race advice to owners of Super Star Bob as the horses headed to the gates for the Highway Handicap at Randwick on Saturday. "I told them coming here I thought we might be a run earlier but after he paraded I told them I think he will be right," Dale said after Super Star Bob kept his perfect record diving through late to win. "We have always had a big opinion of him but he is still raw and you saw that at the end. He is the sort of horse we can come back here for another Highway race in a couple of weeks before looking at the Canberra Guineas." Bobby El-Issa found a run to the inside of stablemate Clipper, which hit the lead too early according Dale, but Super Star Bob seemed to corkscrew his body in the closing stages. "He is still a big baby and saw the post and went to baulk at [it] but he had a bit on them," El-Issa said
VIA NAPOLI CRUISES
Jason Collett knew he had stolen one on his rivals as he scored on Via Napoli. Collett had been secure in the knowledge that he had done no work at the home turn over the Randwick mile and just had to sprint home. "Once she relaxed and travelled I knew I was right," Collett said. "Gee, we went easy, I couldn't believe it and I didn't really move until the turn and she just sprinted home." The overall time was slow and last 600m was 35.12 seconds, showing how completely Collett had controlled the speed. Via Napoli was never in danger in the straight and scored by one length from Anisha, with Queen Misty third. "She is the sort of mare that once she is happy in a race she is very hard to beat."
A WIN FOR LACHLAN
There was no Melbourne winner more heartfelt, nor more loudly cheered on Saturday afternoon than the front-running Burning Front when he provided trainer Darren Weir with his third winner of what proved to be a lucrative day at Moonee Valley.
And not just because he was a well-backed $1.60 favourite who never gave his supporters a moment's worry as he shouldered 60 kilograms to give Brad Rawiller an easy win in the Ranvet Vobis Gold Star race.
No, Burning Front gave teenager Lachlan Lovatt – the son of the gelding's senior part owner, Justin – every reason to marvel at how good life can feel as he looked down from the committee room where his father and a number of friends were hosting a lunch for him.
The 14-year-old schoolboy has just endured the most harrowing five months of his life in the Royal Children's Hospital, having undergone chemotherapy and other painful treatment for leukaemia, a condition he was diagnosed with on August 20 last year.
SHINN PICKS UP THIRD SUSPENSION
Blake Shinn clocked up his third careless riding suspension this month when he was banned for six meetings for causing interference to Got the Goss on Roaring To Win in the final race at Randwick on Saturday.
Shinn is riding on a stay of proceeding as he appeals suspensions from Kembla and Warwick Farm on Wednesday. He indicated he would fight Saturday's suspension, which occurred at 700m when Got The Goss was checked.
Shinn argued that he had pull off on Got The Goss, when a call came from his jockey Matthew Cahill as his mount was also getting pressure from Petrossian on his inside.
With the appeals backing up, if Shinn is unsuccessful in any or all of the appeals it would ruled him out for a significant part of the autumn carnival.
The ultimate racing form guide with free tips, live odds and alerts for all racing.
Long history: Serena Williams plays a forehand on her way to beating Nicole Gibbs. Photo: Scott BarbourIt was – Serena Williams was told during the on-court interview that followed her 63-minute, 6-1, 6-3 defeat of fellow American Nicole Gibbs – exactly 19 years ago to the day that she played her first match on Rod Laver Arena. Except that, actually, it wasn't. Ah, details, details.
The correct answer, in fact, was 19 years and two days, and Williams had rightly remembered that her centre court debut had not come against her sister Venus, as advised, but in the first round of her first-ever grand slam against family foe Irina Spirlea, back in 1998.The 16-year-old Serena won it, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-1, and has pretty much been winning ever since.
Each Williams has contested 17 n Opens; together they have featured in the last 16 of the same slam an extraordinary 35 times, including this one. Venus meets Aussie-slaying German qualifier Mona Barthel on Sunday, while Serena's 11th quarter-final appearance at Melbourne Park rests with victory on Monday against Czech 16th seed Barbora Strycova.
Happily, the siblings are in separate halves of the draw, unlike that first occasion, when the prodigies met in the second round. The first of the 27 times they have played in official tour-level matches was when 17-year-old Venus won in straight sets. It was, yes, exactly 19 years ago.
"I remember the draw came out, and I had to play her in the second round. I remember, I think, we had a tough first set, and then she really went through in the second. Then she went on, I think, to the quarter-finals. She had a really good tournament that year.
"It was a great time. We really had so much fun playing. It's really exciting, looking back, and looking at those moments. You don't really get those moments back, but you can remember them so well. It's so fun. It was the first of so many."
Gibbs was a lesser-known, ranked and credentialled opponent than Williams' first two, Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova, but the scoreline was not too dissimilar, and Serena's satisfaction levels high as the second seed but title favourite edges towards grand slam singles crown No.23.
"I was so pumped up going against my first two opponents, but I think that helped me out today," Williams said. "[Gibbs] started out really, really well. Started with a lot of energy, and then I felt like at the same time I really needed that."
For Gibbs, playing her idol brought its own challenges. And rewards. "She was really nice at the net. She said [she'd seen] great improvements since the last time she played me, which is obviously a nice comment from one of my heroes, so definitely taking that to heart and not being too critical of how I played today. Obviously, all credit in the world to her for being the incredible tennis player that she is.
"She makes the court feel very very small. I think that's the toughest thing about being across the net from her. I think she's in a league of her own. Especially for me, the Williams sisters are who I grew up watching on TV. I think she turned pro when I was three or something, so I have literally been watching her for the entirety of my tennis life. I think that does play into how you feel on the court. It becomes more than a tennis match."
Elite sport – it's a young man's game; you hear it said time and again. And in many sports it is true – but not in tennis.
As the n Open lurched into life on Monday, there were 128 men and 128 women in the draw, each washed, brushed and ready to play – and of them 64 were aged 30 or older: the men had 46 "mature" players in action and the women had 18. They were no old has-beens either – gone are the days when "mature" was a euphemism for "past it".
Roger Federer kicked off his campaign against Jurgen Melzer, two men with a combined age of 70 giving the Rod Laver Arena crowd something to cheer. Denis Istomin, 30 years of age and a veteran of 13 years on the tour, upended the mighty Novak Djokovic on Thursday by playing like a free-hitting youngster. As for Venus Williams, she is 36 and has been schlepping around the circuit since the last century and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
These oldies are not just topping up their pension pots; they mean business. Thanks to the wonders of racquet and string technology, modern medical science and increased understanding of nutrition and diet, athletes can prolong their careers. The result is that the sport becomes more physical – these are mature men and women playing at their peak and it is harder for the younger players, those still growing into their bodies, to take them on pound for pound, muscle for muscle. The days of a 17-year-old Boris Becker wannabe bursting onto the grand slam stage are long gone.
"The game today is much harder physically than when I started out," Melzer said. "There is nobody out there who is not fit and can't run for X amount of time. Also the court speeds went slower and slower and slower, so it's just more rallies. There's no more easy serve-and-volley or anything like that."
There will always be the occasional genetic eccentricity, the uber-athlete who emerges fully formed into this world but they are rare. Rafael Nadal was one: a teenager in a man's body who first set up camp at the French Open and allowed no trespassers. But as Lleyton Hewitt said of him a more than a decade ago: "He is carved from a very special wood."
Sam Smith, the former British No.1 and Channel 7 commentator, has spent her life in tennis but still cannot quite believe how it has changed since she hung up her racquet 17 years ago.
"I just think what we did was prehistoric but then we thought what they did in the '60s and 5'0s was prehistoric where they didn't even stretch – they had a cup of tea and off they went. The words 'core stability' were never mentioned in those days.
"The big change for me has been the recovery side. I quite often joke in commentary that it would be a hot shower, a bit of a stretch against the wall of the locker room and a banana before I did my press and that would be it."
Today's players head for the ice bath, they head for the gym, they warm down and stretch out meticulously and thoroughly. They monitor their intake of food and liquids to the last calorie and millilitre – tennis players these days are a science project from the moment they first pick up a racquet. Everything is geared towards injury prevention and perfect preparation for the next match.
"If you have a good kid at an academy, an eight or nine year old, they will already start the core stability while they are there," Smith said. "They're doing Pilates, they're doing yoga – you start as you mean to go on. I never did any of that! Everything is just a lot more specific and they're drawing a lot more from other sports. You have to build a body now and that takes a long time."
Of course, in Smith's day, the players did not hit the ball as hard as they do now. Modern racquets help players generate more power with more control but these men and women are bigger, fitter and stronger than ever before – when they clump the ball now, it stays clumped.
But the biggest change, in Smith's eyes, is the money in the game. Now players can afford to travel with a team of experts, each dedicated to a specific area of their employer's health and wellbeing.
"I don't think Martina Navratilova had a personal physio with her whereas a lot of the players do now," she said. Radwanska has, Serena has for a long time - you can do it financially. As good as the WTA physios are, they are there to patch you up and send you out. If you have your own personal physio, they are there to manage that side of it but also they know your body. That is a really big factor."
Thanks to science, technology and a healthy pay cheque, it seems that today's players never die, they can just keep returning forever.
'It was very shocking' ... Serena Williams has paid tribute to the victims of Friday's attack in central Melbourne. Photo: Andy BrownbillSerena pays tribute to victims
Serena Williams has paid tribute to the victims of Friday's Bourke Street Mall tragedy.
The six-time n Open champion said she was shocked to hear about the deaths of four people on Friday after a speeding car charged through pedestrians in the middle of Melbourne's CBD.
"It's very shocking and extremely saddening and disheartening," Williams said at her post-match press conference.
"[There are] just so many sad things are happening around the world, and even to hit so close to home where I know literally it's down the street from the tournament, close to where a lot of players are staying.
"You know, it's just an unfortunate event that you just have to really pray for everyone involved in that sad situation."
Williams will play Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic in the fourth round after easily beating her fellow countrywoman Nicole Gibbs on Saturday 6-1 6-3.
On Saturday afternoon, players, officials and spectators on Rod Laver Arena observed a minute's silence for the victims before the match between Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev. You were innocent. You won’t be forgotten. #Melbourne— #AusOpen (@nOpen) January 21, 2017T E N N I S #fed #emiratesA photo posted by L E X I M C N E I L (@leximcneil) on Jan 20, 2017 at 4:33am PSTaLadies who brunch
One of the most photographed events on the schedule is set to be Wednesday's ladies brunch, which will see key female influencers such as WAG Nadia Bartel and models Brooke Hogan and Stephanie Claire Smith mingle over mimosas before taking in the action on centre court.
Emirates' Victorian boss, Dean Cleaver, said the brunch was an opportunity for the airline to try new event formats, given the two-week duration of the n Open.
Tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley will be a special guest speaker at the brunch, while Pat Rafter will address a corporate dinner that evening.
Due next week ... Nadia Bartel will lead the guest list at the ladies' brunch. Photo: Getty Images