Zverev, Medvedev To Play For ATP Finals Title

Alexander Zverev (photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic, defending champion Daniil Medvedev, 2018 champion Alexander Zverev and first-year qualifier Casper Ruud, who won five regular-season titles, Saturday’s semifinal lineup inside Turin’s Pala Alpitour was full of stars.

Djokovic and Zverev met in a rematch of the 2018 final, while Ruud looked to become the seventh different Nitto ATP Finals champion in the last seven years when he faced Medvedev.

By the end of semifinal Saturday, Zverev and Medvedev emerged victorious and it will be the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meeting for the 2021 year-end title.

In a generational battle among giants – and in the 11th time they’ve faced each other – Zverev prevailed over World No. 1 Djokovic, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, after two hours and 28 minutes to advance to Sunday afternoon’s final against World No. 2 Medvedev, who defeated Ruud. When it counted most, the World No. 3 from Germany was the best at problem solving. Now, it will be No. 2 versus No. 3 for the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals title on Sunday. Two former champions will look to add a second ATP Finals title.

Zverev closed out his semifinal triumph over Djokovic with his 14th ace on his first match point. He raised his arms in celebration, then shared a warm embrace with the fallen Djokovic at the net.

“Every time we play it takes hours,” Zverev said during an on-court interview. “I have not spent more time on court with anybody other than him this year. I am happy with the win and happy to be in the final here and to give myself the best chance for tomorrow.”

It should come as little surprise that Djokovic and Zverev went the distance; four of their last five meetings have done so. The margins were small, the stakes were big Saturday night in Turin, and both players were applauded for their sustained efforts.

As the Djokovic-Zverev semifinal unfolded, the two combatants tangled up in a serving duel that saw both scoring at will on their powerful and accurate first serves. At one point, Djokovic was 16-for-16 before Zverev finally scored a point on the Serbian’s first serve. Then, after saving a set point at 4-5, 30-40, Zverev clocked 136 miles-per-hour on a one of his own first serves that garnered a lot of attention.

Both players came to play and each wiggled out of danger by saving break points, Djokovic two and Zverev one. Eventually, the opening set went to a tie break, in which Zverev prevailed 7-4 by maintaining a steady focus. After Zverev hit a backhand winner on the 25th shot of a back-and-forth rally to gain set point, Djokovic netted a second-shot forehand return to close out the hour-long opening set. It was the first set Djokovic had lost all week.

It should be noted that in the last four times they’ve met, the winner of the first set didn’t win the match, but this would soon change in Turin. Djokovic recovered to win the second set on his fifth set point. It came after he struck his 11th ace of the semifinal to close out an 12-point game, which included three deuces. A game earlier, Djokovic broke Zverev to go ahead 5-4 and it was just the third time this week the World No. 3 had seen his serve broken.

Onward to the third set after an hour and 49 minutes – and it’s winner-gets-Medvedev in the final. On serve through the first three games, Zverev surged ahead 3-1 on his second break point of the fourth game after Djokovic pushed a backhand long that quashed a 13-shot rally. Suddenly, for the first time, Zverev had broken Djokovic and it seemed to energize the German. His 13th ace helped him consolidate the break at 4-1. Then, he saved a break point to hold in his next service game to lead 5-2 needing to hold serve just once more to win.

Following a love hold by Djokovic, could Zverev seize the moment? The answer was yes. In fact, Zverev won the final game of the match at love with his 14th ace, and with it Djokovic’s hopes of winning a record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals title would have to wait for another year.

Besides his 14 aces, Zverev hit 35 winners to 24 unforced errors and outpointed Djokovic 98-90. Djokovic finished with 15 aces and hit 27 winners. However, he also committed 29 unforced errors.

Zverev said during his on-court interview he looks forward to his rematch with Medvedev, whom he lost to during group play a week ago. “I am looking forward to having another chance and we are in the final and I am happy to be in the final,” he said. “He is one of the best players in the world right now, so It is going to be a difficult match no matter what.”

Medvedev reaches second straight Nitto ATP Finals title match

Earlier, Medvedev advanced to his second straight Nitto ATP Finals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Ruud in an hour and 19 minutes. It was his ninth straight victory in the year-end tournament over the past two years and third consecutive win over Ruud.

The World No. 2 from Russia got an early break in the opening set, faced no break points on his serve and broke Ruud to go ahead 5-3 in the second. Soon, he capped his victory by playing serve-and-volley and hit a third-shot backhand winner on match point to advance to the title match.

Medvedev finished with 17 winners to 14 unforced errors compared to 14 winners and 21 unforced errors by Ruud. He outpointed the Norwegian 62-47.

“As soon as you are a set and a break up you feel like you are in control,” Medvedev said during an on-court interview after his win. “But that is when the danger is. You need to stay focused and fight for every point. In the last game, I had 0-30 on my serve, and until the last point, it is never over. So, I am happy I was able to finish it.”

While Medvedev, 25, has aspired to put a cap on an outstanding season that has included garnering a fourth ATP Masters 1000 title in Toronto, winning the US Open over Djokovic for his first major crown, plus an eight-match winning streak at the Nitto ATP Finals, it surely was a year of amazing accomplishments for the World No. 8 Ruud. Just 22, he broke into the Top 10, won five regular-season titles – including three straight on clay – and reached the year-end finale for the first time.

“You focus every match you play,” Medvedev said during a post-match interview with Tennis Channel. “Every match is against a tough opponent. I managed to be just a little more crucial during the deciding points today. I could have even been more because when you lose some break points you have to do better. Still, it was a tough match.”

Medvedev had plenty of praise for Ruud. “I believe Casper is one of the smartest players on [the ATP] Tour,” he said. “Before the hard-court swing, nobody actually thought about him or believed in him. Yet, he’s here in the semis of his first ATP Finals. Big respect to him, I’m glad I managed to be on top.”

During his post-match press conference, Ruud said: “It has been a great year for me and my development as a tennis player. Getting to know my opponents more and playing this tournament has been a great experience. To finish a very good year off here in Turin has been a great experience for me and something I will be eager to try and repeat and be back here next year.”

Looking ahead, Medvedev believes Sunday’s final, which is a continuation of his rivalry with Zverev, will be a statement match. He said: “Definitely because in a way, we beat each other. I beat Novak in the US Open; he beat me in Paris and in Australia. He beat Sascha two times in Grand Slams but lost to him in the Olympic Games,” Medvedev said. “It’s not like [the Nitto ATP Finals] is going to decide something really crucial and going to be the end of the line. Of course, every final you play like this is really important.”

Ram and Salisbury upset top-seeded Mektic and Pavic

Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain rallied from a set down to win both a second-set tie break and a match tie break en route to their 4-6, 7-6 (3), 10-4 victory over No. 1 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia.

The No. 2 seeds Ram and Salisbury, who were appearing in their second straight Nitto ATP Finals semifinal, will take a 44-16 match record this season into Sunday’s title match against France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut as they chase after their third crown of the year.

Ram and Salisbury put away the match tie break on their third match point after Ram hit a perfect third-shot backhand volley standing at the net to put a wrap on the one-hour and 34-minute match. Ram and Salisbury outpointed Mektic and Pavic 72-63. It was their second straight win over Mektic and Pavic in six meetings this season.

The loss ended the season for Mektic and Pavic, who went 61-13 in 2021, won nine titles and finished at year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings.

Meanwhile, No. 3 seeds Herbert and Mahut, who qualified for third Nitto ATP Finals semifinals after going 2-1 in group play, defeated No. 4 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 16 minutes. They’re now into their third Nitto ATP Finals title match.

Herbert and Mahut converted two of eight break-point opportunities – one in each set – and did not face any break points as they outpointed the Spanish/Argentine duo 61-40.

The French duo, who are making their sixth Nitto ATP Finals appearance in the last seven years, lost to Ram and Salisbury in group play, 6-7 (7), 6-0, 13-11, the only sets they’ve lost in Turin this week.

By the numbers

• Three past champs advanced to the Nitto ATP Finals semifinals for the first time since 1994 (Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras). This is the second straight year that the Top-3 seeds reached the semifinals following last year’s trio of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem.

• Daniil Medvedev’s nine-match winning streak at the Nitto ATP Finals is the longest since Novak Djokovic’s 15-0 run in London from 2012-15. Medvedev’s straight-set win over Casper Ruud ended a five-match streak in which each of Medvedev’s wins had been in three sets. He became the first player in the 52-year history of the Nitto ATP Finals to win deciding sets in five consecutive matches.

“Quotable …”

• “I think all the matches were a great level. Different opponents and different styles. I managed to win all the matches. It was not an easy match [against Ruud]. When you are in the final you can’t complain, so I am just looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully I can have my best match.”

Daniil Medvedev of Russia, World No. 2, during an on-court interview after his semifinal win against Casper Ruud, in describing his wins during the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.

“I support the statement of WTA as an organization and also their president absolutely. The whole community, tennis community, needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she’s safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on the Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange. I don understand why WTA has taken a stance like that.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, World No. 1, was asked about Peng Shuai during his post-match news conference on Friday evening.