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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev netted a volley on match point, then Rafael Nadal roared back to win five straight games in a 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 Indian Wells triumph.

Photo credit: Matt Hazlett/BNP Paribas Open

Alexander Zverev had Rafael Nadal right where he wanted him—stretched on defense down match point—as he lined up a forehand volley to finish the biggest win of his career.

Zverev's feet froze at the finish line.

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Blocking the ball into net, Zverev dropped his head at a debilitating error.

Nadal pounced on the donation and delivered his most rousing comeback of the year.

An adrenalized Nadal scraped back from the brink reeling off 15 of the last 16 points and five straight games to complete a 6-7 (8), 6-0, 7-5 resurrection win.

"Was a great victory. It's obvious that I played against a great player, a player who was serving unbelievable, at the beginning especially," Nadal said. "He served well whole match apart from some double faults. But you think when somebody is serving with that speed in the second serve, some double faults are the normal thing, no?

"(It) is a great victory, as I said before. I'm very happy about it. I am especially happy about the mentality on court, the spirit of fight during the whole match, believing that I can win a match during the whole time even in the tougher situations. So, yeah. Very happy for the victory."

High-intensity rallies and a topsy-turvy finish culminated in Rafa's rise and Sascha's collapse.

Cracking a backhand winner to cap the comeback, an ecstatic Nadal unleashed a flurry of fist pumps, a delirious crowd stood and roared support for both men and a disconsolate Zverev swiped his Nike headband down his face looking like he might break into tears.

Still ruing that blown volley on match point, Zverev summed up his demise candidly.

"On match point I sucked, so that was it," Zverev told the media. "I missed probably the easiest shot I had the whole match. That's what happened."

For nearly two hours, the former junior world No. 1 showed why he's one of the most explosive young players in the game.

For the final dizzying half hour, Nadal reminded all why he's one of the fiercest fighters in the game.

This wasn't always vintage Nadal. His average first serve speed of 104 mph matched Zverev's average second-serve speed, his second serve was attackable in the early stages and he left his backhand short in the court at times. But the ferocity Nadal brought to the fight and the clarity he showed closing may well jump-start his season.

It was a struggle at the start. Nadal had trouble picking up the 6-foot-6 German's blistering serve, couldn't quite decipher the teenager's two-handed backhand and was hit with an audible obscenity warning by chair umpire Cedric Maurier after falling down 2-4.

"First time in my career," Nadal told Maurier, incredulous at the call.

Serving for the set, Zverev tried the surprise serve and volley. Nadal passed him with backhand down the line for break point. Zverev spun a backhand wide as Nadal broke back for 5-all pumping his fist toward his box and looking ready for a long fight.

The world No. 58 had a set point at 6-5 in the tie breaker, Nadal held set points at 7-6 and again at 8-7, but spun a forehand long. A massive two-handed backhand gave Zverev another set point and he zapped a serve down the middle rattling Nadal's racquet to take a quality set.

It appeared Zverev had the momentum. Nadal ripped it right away from him. The left-hander blitzed through the second set permitting just nine points.

Crunching a backhand return off a 130 mph serve, Nadal backed the teenager up and forced him to defend breaking for the third straight time for a 5-0 second-set lead.

Nadal dished out a second-set bagel in a mere 26 minutes, hitting eight winners against just one error in the set.

A nervous Nadal spun a double fault to face break point in his opening service game of the final set.

Targeting the teenager's forehand side, Nadal paid the price as Zverev slashed a forehand winner down the line breaking for 2-0 in the decider. Nadal broke back, but Zverev was just finding his groove. Zverev's biting first serve set up some decisive strikes.

A 97 mph forehand gave Zverev another break point. Unloading on some lethal forehands he stepped into the court for a smash breaking for the second time in a row and a 3-1 lead.

An electrifying 30-shot rally ended with Nadal pounding a pass for break point. Chair umpire Maurier injected himself into the drama hitting Zverev with a time violation warning. That fired the German up. He barked at the chair then blasted successive 130 mph serves. On game point, Zverev swooped in for a backhand swing volley holding for 5-2.

After two hours, 20 minutes of play Zverev had match point serving at 5-3. His box, including Kiki Mladenovic, screamed in support. Swarming net, Zverev had that high forehand volley right in the sweet spot, but his feet failed to meet the moment.

He armed the shot right into the net then put a running forehand off the tape giving Nadal break point. He handed the Spaniard a lifeline slapping his third straight forehand into the tape, provoking a furious triple fist pump from Nadal.

"Look, I mean, I think it was a great match," Zverev said. "I mean, Rafa did what he does best; he was fighting. I mean, he's known for that. I still had chances to win. I had an easy shot at match point and I missed it. I'm out and he's in the quarterfinals."

Still ruing his opportunity lost, Zverev completely imploded. Framing a forehand, Zverev dumped successive double faults giving Nadal a second straight break and 6-5 lead.

The backhand crosscourt closed a memorable show and a dramatic win that may well recharge Rafa. The fourth-seeded Spaniard will play Kei Nishikori for a semifinal spot.

The fifth-seeded Nishikori edged ninth-seeded John Isner, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5), withstanding 23 aces from the former Indian Wells finalist.

"It was important match mentally. Physically in terms of tennis, too. Because I was able to find some solutions in a tough moments," Nadal said. "I was able to play some good points in tough moments. Is obvious that I need more matches to play with more solid, more confidence during the whole time. But I am getting there."

Passion ignited the comeback and infused Nadal with confidence. Can he carry it forward?

"Winning these kind of matches helps, and I hope to be ready for the next match and keep playing with the same positive attitude," Nadal said. "We'll see. I will keep playing with that passion, and I hope to recover my game and hope to recover my full confidence playing with that passion, with that positive factor follows time here."


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