Focused Zverev Confirms Semifinal Berth At ATP Finals

Alexander Zverev (photo: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev needed a win to qualify for the semifinal round of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin on Thursday. He did just that – and quickly. The World No. 3 from Germany needed just 62 minutes to beat No. 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, 6-2, 6-4, to finish second in the Red Group behind No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Zverev, who won 16 of the first 18 points in the match and jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set, struck 11 aces, hit 22 winners and committed just eight unforced errors to advance against top seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia. The World No. 1 has already clinched first place in the Green Group by going 2-0 with victories earlier this week over No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway and No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

“Today was a tough match mentally because I needed to win,” Zverev said after securing his second victory of the week at the Pala Alpitour. “So, I was 100 percent focused. It was very up and down, and I am happy to be through and win in straight sets.

“You can always improve. The margins are always very small between the top players, but to win you have to do the details right. I hope I can do that on Saturday.”

Zverev, who has won 30 of his last 34 matches and reached the last four three times, won the Brad Drewett Trophy in 2018. In going up against Djokovic, he will be facing a familiar foe. This season, they’ve played each other four times – at the ATP Cup (won by Djokovic in three sets), at the Australian Open (won by Djokovic in four sets), at the Tokyo Olympics (won by Zverev in three sets) and at the US Open (won by Djokovic in five sets).

“I have played Novak in every single big hard-court tournament this year,” said Zverev, whose win over Hurkacz improved his 2021 win-loss record to 57-15. “We are making a habit of playing in the later rounds at big tournaments. It is going to be an entertaining one, I think.”

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s always interesting and close when we play each other, so I’m expecting another tough one,” Zverev added. “There will be a lot of long rallies, we will run a lot more and suffer, in a way, a lot more as well.”

Sinner youngest to win Nitto ATP Finals debut since 2000

On Tuesday, first alternate Jannik Sinner of Italy became the youngest player (at age 20) to win his Nitto ATP finals debut match since 2000 when then-19-year-old Lleyton Hewitt defeated Pete Sampras in Lisbon. He was also the first alternate to win a match in the year-end finale since Janko Tipsarevic beat Novak Djokovic at London in 2011.

Sinner faced Green Group winner Daniil Medvedev of Russia Thursday night in a dead singles match following Alexander Zverev’s win over Hubert Hurkacz, which clinched the second Green Group berth in the semifinal round. While Sinner would be playing for pride, Medvedev saw the opportunity for tuning up for Saturday’s semifinal round after having already clinched first in his group.

Medvedev, the 2020 defending champion, came into the tussle with a seven-match winning streak after going 0-3 in his Nitto ATP Finals debut two years ago, while Sinner walked on court 0-8 against Top-5 opponents. After nearly two-and-a-half hours of lively play, Medvedev’s winning streak remained as he won 6-0, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (8), after saving two match points during the tie break, and Sinner’s losing streak against the best and brightest remained, too.

“It was tough,” Medvedev said during his on-court interview. “Mentally it was tough knowing the match was dead. But I did not want to lose my rhythm. I won the first set quite easily and I was like, lets continue this way. The second set was about an hour or so and then it is the third set. But you’re not going to not play the third set because I like to win, I don’t like to lose. I am happy I won.”

After being a break down in the final set, Medvedev saved match points at 6-5 and 8-7 during the third-set tie break. With his latest win over Sinner, he’s now 3-0 lifetime against the young Italian.

Looking back to Tuesday, Riccardo Piatti, Sinner’s coach, told the ATP website that the news that fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini would be withdrawing with a left oblique injury reached them via text about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“Mateo sent Jannik a message saying to warm up and have fun,” Piatti said. “When Jannik told me that, I said, ‘Listen, Matteo told you the most important thing. You need to go on court and have fun.’ Enjoy the moment, I told him.

“All year, everybody practices, plays and tries to win to be in this type of atmosphere. When you’re there, you need to enjoy that. That is why it was so nice for Jannik, I think.”

Now that Sinner’s season has ended, he can look back in appreciation of winning four tour-level titles in his breakthrough year and, just as important, he will finish 2021 in the FedEx ATP Rankings Top 10.

Tecau goes out with a victory in his final match

Horia Tecau of Romania, who teamed with Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands to win the 2015 Nitto ATP Finals championship, played the final match of his 19-year career Thursday – and left the court a winner. Tecau and Kevin Krawietz of Germany, seeded eighth, defeated No. 4 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 10-6, to finish Green Group round-robin play 1-2. Despite the loss, Granollers and Zeballos (26-12) advanced to Saturday’s semifinal round with a 2-1 record.

Tecau, 36, ranked No. 18, reached a career high of No. 2 in November 2015 and appeared in the Nitto ATP Finals seven times. He won 38 tour-level doubles titles, 20 of them with Rojer and the pair finished 2015 as the year-end No. 1 team and Nitto ATP Finals champions. They won the 2015 Wimbledon and 2017 US Open titles. He finished with a career win-loss record of 471-286, including 35-19 this season, and 29-15 with Krawietz.

Afterward, Tecau expressed his emotions in an Instagram post today that’s received nearly 4,000 likes:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Horia Tecău (@horiatecau)

Top seeds Mektic and Pavic advance to doubles semifinals

No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, defeated No. 6 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 33 minutes to earn the second semifinal berth from the Green Group.

Both came in with 1-1 win-loss records needing a victory to move into Saturday’s semifinal round. Pavic set up match point with a down-the-line forehand winner during the second-set tie break and the Croatians won after Dodig hit a service return wide on match point. Mektic and Pavic outpointed Dodig and Polasek 68-61.

The year-end No. 1 team of Mektic and Pavic will play the winner of the Red Group on Saturday.

Thursday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Friday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

The ATP Tour honored recent retirees Viktor Troicki, Martin Klizan, Paolo Lorenzi, SteveDarcis and Julian Knowle. Lorenzi, a native of Rome, won the 2016 Kitzbuhel title at age 34 and remains the oldest first-time champion in ATP Tour history (since 1990).

“Quotable …”

• “Saxophone was one of the most difficult things to learn. I haven’t been really dedicated to practice lately, I must say. I do have it with me here. I did not unpackaged it yet. It’s still in the bag due to the constrictions I have in the hotel, and I want to spare my wife and my team and everybody who is staying in the hotel.

“I want to spare them the terrible noise that comes out from my saxophone as I am a beginning, so I still have to learn.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, World No. 1, who explained during an interview with Tennis Channel that he wants to learn how to play the saxophone. During his Wednesday press conference, Djokovic explained that he brought his saxophone with him to Turin.

“I have gained a lot of experience. I definitely want to be back here and compete at a better level because I know I can play better than I played this week. I started well and then just didn’t’ play well enough and sometimes that happens.”

Hubert Hurkacz, World No. 9, who finished with an 0-3 win-loss record in his first Nitto ATP Finals appearance, spoke about his year-end finale experience during his Thursday press conference.