Alexander Zverev matched his career best in Melbourne after a tough 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (8-6), 6-1 win over France's Jeremy Chardy. But the third round won't be enough for the German who has bigger challenges ahead.
Drama is becoming a habit for Alexander Zverev, as Germany's great male hope made hard work of booking a third-round clash with young Australian wildcard Alex Bolt.
"What an amazing match," Zverev said. "Jeremy fought so hard. He's an unbelievable player. He's caused so much damage to all the top guys in the world, and he showed it again today; he's a great fighter, great tennis player, great person, as well."
Zverev began in commanding fashion, serving well and overpowering his 31-year-old opponent to force a break in Chardy's first service game. But the inconsistency that's hamstrung the German in majors quickly reared its ugly head, as he let Chardy back in to the set with a series of errors. A brilliant no-look backhand on the run from the Frenchman made it 4-4 as the momentum swung.
"What an amazing match, Jeremy fought so hard he's an unbelievable player," said Zverev. "He's caused so much damage to all the top guys in the world and he showed it again today, he's a great fighter, great tennis player, great person as well."
The world number 4 continued to be wasteful, missing a simple chance in the next game as his body language deteriorated. But the pause ahead of the tiebreak seemed to do him good and after taking a three-point lead with a big ace, he powered a backhand down the line from mid court to seal it.
Zverev took that momentum in to the third set where Chardy looked overwhelmed by his opponents' superior power. At that point, the 21-year-old from Hamburg could reasonably have been expected to wrap things up but he was soon a break down and once again showing signs of the mental fraility that has often cost him on the big stage.
Letting it slip
A series of brilliant retrievals at 3-4 down got Chardy back on serve only for Zverev to produce a string of basic errors while serving to stay in the set that allowed the Frenchman to take it to a fourth.
The seventh game of the fourth set, at 3-3, was a neat summary of the match to that point, with Zverev playing some brilliant stuff to create four break points, only to spurn them all. The set eventually headed for a tiebreak after Chardy forced but failed to convert three set points on Zverev's serve in the 12th.
Soft hands at the net gave Chardy the first mini-break but Zverev powered his way back to parity and then on to a first match point, on his opponent's serve. That came and went, with the German looping a fairly straightforward forehand long. Chardy immediately took advantage, Zverev again overcooking a straightforward groundstroke to send it to a fifth.
This most topsy-turvy of matches took another twist, as Zverev repeated his first-set trick and broke Chardy at the first opportunity. Suddenly the Frenchman looked tired, sending regulation groundstrokes wide and long. Zverev smelt blood, breaking again to take a 4-0 lead and never looking like relinquishing a game on serve.
Finally a big ace down the line set up match point and Chardy's ballooned return sent Zverev in to the third round for the third successive year. This time, it's a hurdle he must clear.
Zverev's compatriot Philipp Kohlschreiber was one of very few male seeds to fall on Thursday, with the number 32 seed losing 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 to Portuguese player Joao Sousa. Elsewhere Milos Raonic squeezed past 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka in a four set match comprised entirely of tiebreaks and Austria's Dominic Thiem, seeded 7, was forced to retire hurt while trailing home favorite Alexei Popyrin.
Serena storms through in style
Earlier in the day, Serena Williams brushed off Canada's Eugenie Bouchard as her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title gathered pace.
The American won 6-2, 6-2 in 70 minutes, to set up a clash with Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska, who wasn't even born when Williams lifted her first Grand Slam title.
"It wasn't an easy match tonight, Eugenie's been to the final of Wimbledon (in 2014) and the semi-finals of other Grand Slams," Williams said. "So I knew 'Serena, you've got to come out hot, you've got to come out firing, she's a really good player and I haven't had many matches since last year'."
Women's number one seed Simona Halep didn't have things anywhere near as easy. American youngster Sofia Kenin pushed the Romanian all the way before Halep prevailed 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4 to set up a meeting with Venus Williams in the third round.