Alexander Zverev is never one to shy away from a tough task, even if that task is facing his idol Roger Federer at a tournament the Swiss has already won six times.
With 16 years of age separating them, and a massive gulf in experience, Federer is naturally the favourite heading into their ATP Finals round-robin clash on Tuesday but a quick look at their head-to-head results could imply otherwise.
The pair have split their previous four meetings – they are 1-1 against each other in 2017 – and Zverev triumphed in their most recent showdown, in the final in Montreal last August.Both Zverev and Federer can secure qualification to the semi-finals on Tuesday, and the young German is well aware of his chances.
“I think anyone beating Federer in this group has a good chance of passing. But he’s the favourite definitely in all of the matches he plays,” said Zverev, who is making his first appearance at the ATP Finals.
“I played him a few times this year now. I played him three times, if you count the Hopman Cup match we played. Obviously, all of them were great matches. Hopefully it can be another one.”
Since Alex Corretja triumphed in Hanover in 1998, no ATP Finals debutant has won the title on their first appearance. It is a unique tournament that only features the top eight players in the world, competing in two round-robin groups.
“It is different walking on here than any other stadium,” admitted Zverev following his opening match victory over Marin Cilic on Sunday.
“The crowd, the atmosphere is amazing. The show before we walk on is something special. There were a lot of nerves involved in my first match. Obviously I’m happy that’s behind me. I’m happy that I won. I think the next matches will be not different but from a nerves perspective it will be much different for me.”
Federer began his London campaign this week with a straight-sets win over Jack Sock. The Swiss world No.2 has grown accustomed to facing players who are much younger than he is and says it doesn’t bare much weight on any of his match-ups.
Federer qualifies Tuesday if:
– He defeats Zverev in straight sets
– He defeats Zverev and Sock defeats Cilic
Zverev qualifies on Tuesday if:
– He defeats Federer and Cilic defeats Sock
“Special, it’s not tougher. I’m used to it by now, playing against the young guy,” Federer told reporters at the O2 Arena in London.
“Where I feel it is just like I can’t play 25 tournaments anymore, I mean I can, but I don’t know what the outcome will be. So I just choose to stay healthy and injury-free and this year I ended up playing much less than I thought I would because of the great start of the season, I didn’t have to push it that much to be quite honest, which is great. That’s where I feel it, the rest of it I feel good.”
Federer has played just 11 tournaments this year heading into the ATP Finals and has won seven of them. He pulled out of the Paris Masters to rest before coming to London and he says he felt his best physically on Sunday against Sock, since his Basel final against Juan Martin del Potro three weeks ago.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion also played the Laver Cup in September, a new team event he came up with, along with his agent Tony Godsick, that saw Federer share a squad with Zverev, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych, all representing Team Europe.
“I do feel like the Laver Cup has made us get to know each other a bit better,” says Federer.
“I mean, we have each other’s telephone numbers now, all of us. That wasn’t the case beforehand. We anyway knew we’d see each other all the time, so it’s nice to kind of be able to connect if you wanted to with the guys.
“I felt like at the ATP Finals ceremony and the official presentation, I did feel a sort of camaraderie, cool rivalry, but yet friendship going on, which I think is nice to see. We are all together on the boat. We’re all hanging out, all talking to each other. I’m not sure if that was always the case in previous years.
“It’s not that we didn’t get along, but we didn’t know each other that well, to be quite frank. I see good things being carried over by the Laver Cup without forgetting at the end of the day we are rivals, as well, you know.”
Federer, who kicked off his ATP Finals campaign with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Jack Sock on Sunday afternoon, could have kept his chances of ending the year as No. 1 alive had he competed at the Paris Masters two weeks ago.
But the Swiss, who clinched an eighth Basel title last month, pulled out from the final Master 1000 event of the season to rest ahead of the ATP Finals, which allowed Nadal to secure the year-end No. 1 in Paris.
Asked if he had any regrets over that decision and if he wished the top ranking would still be up for grabs this week in London, Federer said: “He (Nadal) was better throughout the year. He played more tournaments. He was incredibly successful throughout. So, no, I don’t have any regrets because I feel like in my stage of my competition, my age, either it comes to me or it doesn’t.
“He had more gas left in the tank than I did. I couldn’t play as much as I’ve wanted, or I overplayed anyway.
“My only regret was I would have loved to be in contention through the Montreal finals, Cincinnati, US Open. But things evaporated very quickly after he won the US Open. That’s when he made his final push, was in Asia. That was it for me really.
“In some ways I’m happy he clinched it because he deserves it. And like this, I can focus on playing the tournament, and not having to talk about that at the same time.
“But, sure, I would have loved to be it, but you can’t be it with that many tournaments, so it’s no problem for me.”
Heading into London, Federer had played 53 matches in 2017 compared to 77 for Nadal. The Swiss has astonishingly lost just four matches this season to record a 92.6 winning percentage.
The 36-year-old is gunning for a seventh ATP Finals trophy this week while Nadal is seeking a first.
The Spaniard told reporters in London on Friday that one of the reasons he has never won the ATP Finals in any of his seven previous appearances is the fact that the tournament is always played on indoor hard courts, which is not his best surface.
Nadal has long voiced his opinion over this subject, and believes the tournament should switch surfaces and locations.
Federer was asked on Sunday if he thought it would be fair if the season finale would take place at least one time on clay – which is Nadal’s favoured surface.
“’Fair’? I’m not sure if it’s the right word,” replied Federer.
“But I think it’s right and fair that it’s indoors, as well. There is no Masters 1000s on grass. There is one Masters 1000 indoors: Paris. So I feel like indoors also deserves its place, you know.
“Could it be switched up to clay once in a while? Yeah, maybe. Could we have more 1000s on grass? Yeah, we could have that, too. Could we have less on clay, more or hard courts? Could we have more or hard courts, less on clay? Yes, it’s all debatable.
“I think it’s not the time of the year for clay, so there you have it,” the world No. 2 added with a smile. “You can do indoor clay, I guess, but that’s a bit silly. But I get his point, and it’s a fair point.”
This is the first time since 2010 that Nadal and Federer are the top two seeds at the ATP Finals.
Nadal begins his assault on a maiden title here on Monday night against David Goffin.
It’s been quite a year…
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 12, 2017
The United States claimed their first Fed Cup title for 17 years as Shelby Rogers and CoCo Vandeweghe beat Belarus pair Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich in a deciding doubles rubber in the final on Sunday.
Vandeweghe and Rogers won 6-3, 7-6 (3) to give the Americans a 3-2 final victory and an 18th Fed Cup crown.
“I’m just really thrilled for all four players,” said US captain Kathy Rinaldi. “CoCo (Vandeweghe) came out and just played unbelievable. Shelby (Rogers) stepped up and Sloane (Stephens) — my heart was broken for her, but she battled this whole weekend, she battled all the way to the end. I’m so proud of all four of them.”
Earlier on Sunday, Vandeweghe put the USA 2-1 up by beating Sabalenka 7-6 (5), 6-1, while Sasnovich battled back from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 to draw Belarus level at 2-2.
The 19-year-old Sabalenka and Sasnovich, 23, dropped a serve apiece in the first set and the Americans surged in front after just 26 minutes.
The Belarus duo replied positively and broke both Vandeweghe and Rogers in the second to move 5-2 ahead but the visitors then broke back twice to level at 5-5.
In a tense conclusion, the hosts broke Rogers again but the American pair would not buckle despite the intense atmosphere of a Minsk crowd desperate to see a first home Fed Cup triumph.
Sabalenka dropped serve again to send the set to the tiebreak where the experienced US duo triumphed.
In Sunday’s early match Sabalenka and Vandeweghe both played with confidence under the watchful gaze of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on the hard-court at the packed Minsk Chizhovka 8,000-seat arena.
The 25-year-old American took the opening set after 50 minutes winning it in a tiebreak.
In the second Sabalenka, who is 78th in the world, suddenly lost her nerve allowing Vandeweghe to break twice before she took the set and the match sealing her victory with an accurate backhand.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 12, 2017
“I knew if I just kept giving myself opportunities and getting my nose in front in her service games, I’d keep getting opportunities and she’d eventually break down,” Vandeweghe said.
“She did what she’s supposed to do and did what I expected her to do – just swing and pray for it to go in and she did. So you just got to recover and keep fighting.
“And then it showed in the second set, she withered when I kept the pressure on her, and then I just closed it out.”
Later Sunday, US Open champion Stephens, 24, broke her rival’s serve early in the opening set to lead 1-0 after 42 minutes.
But in the second Sasnovich broke twice to level at one set all after one hour 10 minutes on court.
In the deciding set, Stephens led 5-2 before Sasnovich, 23, roared back with four straight games before eventually closing it out 8-6 as Stephens suffered her sixth straight defeat since winning her maiden Grand Slam title in New York in September.
“It was one of the most tense matches in my life,” Sasnovich said.
“I gave everything I have for the win, the god of tennis was on my side today. The support of the crowd helped me to stay concentrated throughout the game. It was a fantastic match.”
On the opening day Vandeweghe put USA into the lead with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sasnovich, while Sabalenka beat Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to pull the scores level at 1-1.
Belarus were without former world number one Victoria Azarenka who was forced to remain in the United States to fight a custody battle over her baby son.