There is always one match which stands out during a day’s schedule and on day five, that match was the clash between Matteo Berrettini, the seventh seed from Italy and Carlos Alcaraz, the young Spaniard who dominated and won the Next Gen Finals last year in Milan.
Unbelievable. I think at his age I didn't have an ATP point,. He's impressive. He can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everybody his potential. Luckily today I won, but really congrats to him. Matteo Berrettini
The last time the pair met was in Vienna where the teenager narrowly won so it wasn’t surprising that Berrettini required nearly four hours to avenge that defeat 6-2 7-6(3) 4-6 2-6 7-6(10-5) and progress as expected, into the fourth round where another Spaniard awaits, Pablo Carreno Busta, the 6-4 7-5 6-7(6) 6-3 victor over and equally fast rising young star, Sebastian Korda.
As the scoreline suggests, it was a tough tussle between two highly determined and focused individuals with Berrettini keen to re-establish himself after pulling out of the ATP Finals with an abdominal injury and then picking up a wrist problem at the start of his Australian Open campaign.
The first set was dominated by Berrettini who claimed it in just 39-minutes but the heat increased in the second with Alcaraz pushing him to the limits before conceding it in the tie-break.
Having pocketed the first two sets, the 25-year-old Italian could have thought that he had broken the teenager’s spirit but that was far from the case as the 18-year-old retaliated aggressively breaking through for 5-4 and extending the match into a fourth set (which he dominated), and a fifth which developed into a major battle for points.
Berrettini did take a tumble in the second game of the decider but after an injury time out, resumed and showed no ill-effects from the fall as he locked horns with his younger opponent and, with neither giving ground, the third round match went into a deciding fifth.
After three hours and 56-minutes of play, the Italian raised his first match point when a wild swinging forehand volley from Alcaraz sailed long but the youngster saved it to hold on for the Champion’s Tie-break.
There Berrettini proved to be the stronger and after 4-hours and 10-minutes no doubt was relieved to see Alcaraz deliver his ninth double fault on match point having himself saved nine of the 13 breakpoints he faced!
“Unbelievable. I think at his age I didn’t have an ATP point,” Berrettini said of the Spaniard.
“He’s impressive. He can only improve playing matches like this. He showed everybody his potential. Luckily today I won, but really congrats to him.”
That proved to be the only five-setter of the day with four other matches going to four including Rafa Nadal, Denis Shapovalov, Miomir Kecmanovic, and as already mentioned, Pablo Carreno Busta.
Nadal, who would like to win his 21st major title and pull ahead of both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, dropped his first set in Melbourne this year.
He finally dispatched Karen Khatchanov 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-1 after two hours and 50-minutes to make it to round four where he will face the unseeded Adrian Mannarino who battled past another Russian, Aslan Karatsev, the 18th seed, 7-6(4) 6-7(4) 7-5 6-4.
Nadal has only won the Aussie title once, in 2009, and while he isn’t the favourite to lift this year’s crown, he is a contender and has so far shown, more than glimpses of his performances when at his peak.
“It’s a very special week for me coming back from where I have been, every time I come back here to play is a very special thing,” Nadal told the crowd, a reference to the foot injury which ended his 2021 season in August.
“I had my best match so far without a doubt since I came back.
“I went through some very tough times in the last year and a half, but nights like this mean everything to me, that’s a lot of energy in my pocket to keep going, keep fighting every single day.”
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, seeded 14, also required four sets to defeat Reilly Opelka 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3 6-4 and reach the last 16 which is the furthest he has advanced at the AO.
To date the 22-year-old had only made the third round in 2019 and 2021 and will next face Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the third seed, who in turn defeated Moldova’s Radu Albot 6-3 6-4 6-4 in their third-round match.
“It was a tough one out there against Reilly,” Shapovalov said in his on-court interview. “You really have to take your chances and I am happy with the way it went. Thank you guys for all of the support.
“I knew he was going to hit one or two aces but I tried to get my racket on as many as possible,” Shapovalov added. “Early on I found a rhythm on his serve, I was able to chip quite a lot back which I was happy about. I think I did a good job taking the chances. It is tough to get the rhythm against a guy like that, so I am super happy.”
Shapovalov will have another hard battle when he faces Zverev who he has beaten only twice in six meetings.
Zverev meanwhile, admitted he had been far from perfect in his fourth round.
The world number three, still seeking his first Grand Slam title surprisingly struggled with his serve at times but was always in full control against the 32-year-old qualifier.
“Radu is (in) great form at the moment, he’s obviously feeling the ball well, so happy to close it out in three sets,” said Zverev.
“Of course, I had much struggles on the court today, it didn’t feel perfect. But who is perfect? At the end of the day I won and I’m happy with that.”
Finally 17th seed Frenchman Gael Monfils defeated the 16th seeded Cristian Garin of Chile 7-6(4) 6-1 6-3 and will take on Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who took out Italys Lorenzo Sonego 6-4 6-7(8) 6-2 7-5 at the top of the draw.