By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne
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.
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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.