In what was later described by Federer as a “bold move”, Zverev stopped play during the eighth point of the second-set tiebreak because a ball kid standing behind the Swiss accidentally dropped a ball, which rolled onto the court for a few feet.
Umpire Carlos Bernardes and Federer both didn’t see the incident occur but after Bernardes confirmed with the ball kid that he had indeed dropped the ball, the Brazilian decided they should replay the point. Federer had managed to return Zverev’s serve in the point that was interrupted. When the point was replayed, Zverev aced the Swiss on his way to a 7-5, 7-6(5) victory, denying Federer the chance to fight for a 100th career title.
During his on-court interview with Annabel Croft, an apologetic Zverev tried to explain what happened to the booing O2 Arena crowd.
“First of all I’d like to apologise for the situation in the tiebreak. The ball boy dropped the ball so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point,” said the 21-year-old German.
Croft addressed the crowd and told them Zverev was telling the truth, and that the booing was unwarranted.
“I think you have to be a little bit more respectful,” said Croft.
Zverev continued: “I apologised to Roger at the net already. He told me it’s okay and it’s obviously in the rules. I want to apologise to the crowd as well.
“There’s a lot of Roger fans here as he deserves. He should, from what he’s achieved and the kind of guy he is, he should have the most fans in the world.”
Zverev admits he felt “sad” from the whole situation.
“Obviously a lot of emotions going on through my head. I was really upset afterwards in the locker room, as well. I’m not going to lie. I had to take a few minutes for myself,” he said.
“I hope the crowd and the people who were booing maybe look at what actually happened, maybe just realise that I’ve maybe not done anything wrong…
“The ball boy dropped the ball in the middle of the rally then ran for it. Without even thinking, I stopped the rally, said it was a let. That’s how it is with the rules.”
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Federer, whose last of six ATP Finals titles came in 2011, addressed the incident calmly during his press conference, in which he was asked if the situation affected him.
“What do you mean, ‘it affected me?’ Of course it did. It got replayed. I got aced. So, yes, it did affect me,” said Federer.
“I don’t know what’s rules are. I just think I was trying to think what would I have done in his position? It’s bold to stop the rally because I don’t know if it’s an umpire’s decision or not. While you’re hitting, that might go through your head. So I would have probably said, Whew, I’ll probably keep on playing, unless the ball really rolls into the court quick.
“I don’t know what happened actually. Was it a bounce and it rolled, or a bounce and he picked it up?
“It did roll, okay. Well, I mean, it’s a very difficult call. I didn’t see it. The umpire didn’t see it. But once the ball boy said that’s what happened, linesman confirmed, the umpire believes them, which is obviously true, what is there to be done? It’s normal to replay the point from that point on.
“It was obviously a big call. Instead of being in the rally in a decent position, you get aced, yes, it makes a difference. It could have made a difference. That’s all hypothetically speaking now at this point…
“I’m not questioning Sascha’s sportsmanship in any way. I think it’s a bold move by Sascha to stop the rally because the umpire can just say, ‘Sorry, buddy, you’re in the rally. I don’t care. You lost the point. I didn’t see it’.”
Federer, who once upon a time was a ball boy himself at his home tournament in Basel, assures he is not upset with the boy who dropped the ball.
“I just asked him, ‘Did you drop the ball?’ I didn’t understand what he said. I said, ‘Did you drop the ball?’ He said, ‘Yes, I did drop the ball’.
“From that standpoint, it’s, ‘Okay, no problem, that happens’. It’s all good. It’s all good. I hope he doesn’t have a sleepless night. It’s not a big deal at the end of the day. It could have been if maybe I win the next point. Whatever happened, this is life, this is sports. I’m definitely not mad at him. It’s all good, you know, from my side.”
Federer concedes that he didn’t play as well as he would have liked and said he struggled with Zverev’s first serve earlier in the match. The 37-year-old concludes his season with a 48-10 win-loss record and his quest for a 100th title will have to resume in 2019.
Zverev is the first German to reach the title decider at the ATP Finals since Boris Becker in 1996. He is now 3-3 head-to-head against Federer and will be chasing the biggest trophy of his career on Sunday.
On Zverev getting booed, Federer said: “Sascha doesn’t deserve it. He apologised to me at the net. I was like, ‘Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologise to me here. Congratulations on a great match and a great tournament so far. All the best for the finals’. And you move on. He shouldn’t be apologising.”
Looking ahead to next season, Federer knows a lot of decisions need to be made regarding his schedule, his preparations and everything in between.
“I think we’re eager to see what we’re going to work on exactly. Also what’s the decision on the clay, seeing what’s going to transpire through the vacation, what is my thoughts, all that, then taking the decision at some point in next few weeks on that,” said the 37-year-old.
“Yeah, so definitely the plan is to play again next year, and come up with a good schedule that suits my family, suits Mirka, me. That’s why it’s good that we have time now. Also that suits fitness coach, physio, coaches, and everybody. Yeah, looking forward to that process. I like taking decisions, so it’s all good.”
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