Alexander Zverev denied Novak Djokovic a record-equaling sixth ATP Finals title by producing some impressive tennis to stun the Serb 6-4, 6-3 and become the youngest player to lift the trophy since his opponent won it in 2008.
The 21-year-old Zverev, who had lost to Djokovic easily just four days earlier in the round robin stage, followed up his victory over Roger Federer in the semi-finals with success in Sunday’s championship match, to become the first German since Boris Becker in 1995 to win the ATP Finals.
A day after getting booed by the O2 Arena crowd for stopping play in the second-set tiebreak against Federer when a ball kid accidentally dropped a ball onto the court, Zverev showcased precisely why he is being described as the future of tennis, handing an in-form Djokovic just his third defeat in his last 38 matches.
Those three defeats Djokovic suffered came against Stefanos Tsitsipas (Toronto), Karen Khachanov (Paris Masters) and now Zverev – players who are all aged 22 and under.
It is the latest sign that a changing of the guard could be just around the corner, and Zverev’s triumph, witnessed by a marquee audience that included the likes of David Beckham and Guga Kuerten, was a fitting finale to a transitional 2018 season.
“Right now I really can’t describe it. I’m unbelievably happy, this is obviously the biggest title I’ve ever won,” said Zverev during the trophy ceremony.
“First of all I’d like to congratulate Novak on a great week again, not only this week but you know how you played the second half of the year, we maybe never seen it before, you barely lost a match and I’m actually very thankful that you lost one to me today.
“We played twice this week, everybody knows how good of a tennis player you are but I want to really mention how good of a person you are as well. We had so many talks, not only about tennis, but about other stuff, about life, about all different kinds of subjects, I’m not going to mention the ones we talked about, but yeah, you’re also a very good sharer of this world.
“I appreciate you sharing titles with me and matches. Obviously you could win any match you want but I appreciate you letting me win one today. Huge congratulations to the whole Novak team, you guys have been absolutely amazing. Having surgery this year and finishing the year as world No. 1, I don’t know if that’s ever been done before.”
Entering the final, Djokovic hadn’t dropped serve in any of his 36 service games through the five matches he played. He had only faced two break points en route to the final both of which came against Zverev in the round robin stage.
Serve reigned supreme through the first eight games, with both players barely dropping points on their own serve. But Zverev found an opening in game nine, creating the first break point of the match, and he converted on a netted forehand from Djokovic. It was the first time the world No. 1 was broken all tournament.
Serving for the set at 5-4, Zverev, who led the tournament with 42 aces entering the final, aced three times and wrapped up the set on his second opportunity in 39 minutes.
The world No. 4 won a 26-shot rally to get a break point in Djokovic’s first service game of the second set. The top seed saved it but soon faced another and this time, Zverev did not flinch, out-rallying Djokovic and breaking with a brilliant forehand winner. Djokovic pegged him back immediately for 1-1 but Zverev struck again to take the lead.
MATCH POINT 🏆
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) November 18, 2018
The break-fest was finally halted by Zverev, who opened up a 3-1 lead and he maintained his advantage throughout the second set. He secured an exceptional victory against a seemingly invincible Djokovic with a passing shot winner he won’t forget anytime soon.
An emotional Zverev fell to the ground in disbelief and Djokovic walked over to his side of the court to congratulate him. As the pair embraced, one couldn’t help but feel that moment could end up bearing deeper significance down the road, as Zverev became the youngest to win this title since Djokovic achieved that feat 10 years ago. It was like a torch had been passed on from one generation to the other, even though Djokovic remains No. 1 in the world and has won the last two majors.
“There’s a lot of similarities in terms of trajectory of professional tennis, in our careers. Hopefully he can surpass me. I sincerely wish him that. He seems like someone that is very dedicated. Without a doubt, he’s a really nice person, someone that gets along very well with everyone,” said Djokovic of Zverev.
“He deserves everything he gets so far. There’s a lot of time ahead of him. Wish him to stay healthy and obviously win a lot of titles.”
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