Zverev Gives A Master Class in Turin

Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals in Turin (photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 21, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev, champions of the Nitto ATP Finals in two of the last three years, squared off Sunday in the title match of this year’s season-ending finale in Turin, Italy.

The fans who came out to the Pala Alpitour in the city’s Santa Rita district throughout its first year of hosting the prestigious event, following a 12-year run at the O2 Arena in London, came alive and so did the players. Medvedev and Zverev were the two winningest players on the ATP Tour this year, each sporting 58 victories

However, after the 75-minute championship tussle was finished, it was the World No. 3 Zverev raising his arms in celebration of his 59th triumph in 2021. He beat the defending champion and current World No. 2 Medvedev convincingly, 6-4, 6-4, to win his second Nitto ATP Finals crown.

“It was great,” Zverev said during his on-court interview following his victory, which ended a five-match losing streak to Medvedev. “I won the [Nitto ATP] Finals, in the final against someone I had lost five times in a row. So, I had to play one of my best matches. I am happy about that and happy to go on holiday with this win.”

After denying World No. 1 Novak Djokovic the chance to play for a big trophy for the second time this season, following his semifinal victory over the Serbian at the Tokyo Olympics in July, Zverev stepped up against the second-ranked Medvedev and played impressively from first ball to last ball. He dominated longer rallies and kept his opponent off balance.

The German star finished with eight aces, including his final one on match point, hit 23 winners and strung together an 83-percent (33 of 40) efficiency rate in winning points on his first serve and won 76 percent (41 of 54) of his service points overall. Zverev controlled the net by winning 15 of 21 attempts and did not face any break points. He outpointed Medvedev 61-51. It added up to a statement victory by the 24-year-old Hamburg native – not to mention it was his ATP-leading sixth title win of the year.

Meanwhile, the tall and lanky, 25-year-old Medvedev was held in check, with just three aces, 14 winners and 13 unforced errors. His serve was broken twice by Zverev, in the third game of the opening set and the first game of the second set. Both times, Zverev consolidated the breaks and was never serious threatened.

“I didn’t feel amazing,” Medvedev said in press. “Tough to say. Maybe, some tiredness of the body. Maybe, just mentally [I] was not a hundred percent. Not that I didn’t want to be. But, yeah, definitely, something was missing. I don’t have the answer to be honest.

“Even when [my serve] was going on the line, it didn’t really have that spark. It wasn’t enough for Sascha, who is a great player and broke me two times. Sometimes, in a way, it’s not bad, but when you’re playing in a big final on a fast surface against someone who is serving like Sascha, it’s enough to win the match. We can talk about many things, but the serve was definitely the key today, and he was better.”

The 12th head-to-head confrontation between the World No. 2 Medvedev and World No. 3 Zverev came less than a week after the Russian’s three-set win in round-robin play. Now, a day after each advanced to final – Medvedev in straight sets over Casper Ruud and Zverev in a thrilling three-setter over Djokovic – one of them would emerge as a two-time Nitto ATP Finals champion. As it happened, it would be Zverev, who capped his season with one final hurrah. In doing so, he kept Medvedev from winning his fifth title of 2021 and ended the Russian’s nine-match Nitto ATP Finals winning streak. Their career head-to-head is now even at 6-all. Earlier this season, Medvedev had beaten Zverev at the ATP Cup in Melbourne in January and more recently at the Rolex Paris Masters.

During the trophy ceremony, Zverev congratulated his opponent for an incredible season. “You’re the leader of our generation,” he said. “You beat me five times in a row. You won a first major. We know each other for a long time. I hope many more finals together.”

Winning the Nitto ATP Finals crown culminated a highly-successful season for Zverev, in which he garnered two ATP Masters 1000 crowns in Madrid and Cincinnati, won the Tokyo Olympics singles gold medal and also captured titles in Acapulco and Vienna. Since Wimbledon, he won 32 of his last 36 matches. He became the first since Andy Murray in 2016 to win both the ATP Finals title and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

“It is special, and I am super thrilled and happy right now,” Zverev said. “There is no better way to end the season than winning here. I am incredibly happy and I am already looking forward to next year.”

Herbert and Mahut win second Nitto ATP Finals title

Like the singles title match, Sunday’s doubles final matched up the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds as Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, the reigning US Open champions, took on French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who won this year’s Roland Garros doubles title.

While Ram and Salisbury beat Herbert and Mahut, 6-7 (7), 6-0, 13-11, in group play on Tuesday and looked forward to Sunday’s rematch, it was no guarantee for repeat success.

As the championship match unfolded, Herbert and Mahut took advantage of their opportunities – especially during the second-set tie break – and won their second Nitto ATP Finals title with a 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory that lasted 91 minutes. The Frenchmen won a remarkable 40 of 41 (98 percent) first-serve points and faced no break points on their serve. They outpointed Ram and Salisbury 74-51.

Herbert and Mahut won the 38-minute opening set by winning 20 of 20 first-serve points and took advantage of a break of serve against Ram and Salisbury in the third game of the set.

Then, after each team held serve without being broken, it was on to a second-set tie break, which Herbert and Mahut dominated after jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead. With six championship points on their racquet, Herbert wrapped up the 2021 championship with his team’s ninth service ace. For a moment, the Frenchmen were in shock at what they had just achieved. They glanced at one another to make sure it was true – and each broke out a big smile. Then, they shared an emotional victory hug before walking to the net to be congratulated by Ram and Salisbury.

Except for first-time finalist Salisbury, who also was the first British player to compete in the Nitto ATP Finals doubles championship, the other three had plenty of Nitto ATP Finals title match experience. Ram played in the 2017 title match with South Africa’s Raven Klaasen, while Herbert and Mahut were into their third final, having lost in 2018 to Americans’ Mike Bryan and Jack Sock before winning the title in 2019 over Klaasen and Michael Venus of New Zealand.

Mahut said in press this week that “it would mean a lot” to win the title. “It’s the greatest event on the ATP [Tour],” he said. “We had the chance already to win the trophy, and we know the difference between losing in the final and winning in the final is a big difference. And personally, I really like the trophy, I think it’s one of the best of the year, so I would love to have it one more time in my hands.”

After they won, during an on-court interview prior to the trophy ceremony, the 39-year-old Mahut said: “It’s an amazing feeling winning here for the second time. I have no words. We lost to them in round-robin. They played an amazing match. Today, we knew we had to play the best level. I think we played our best match of the week. It’s amazing to win this tournament twice.”

Herbert, 30, added: “We were pushing hard the whole match. For sure, there was a bit of stress, but Nico did an amazing job today. He’s getting better with age, playing better and better. It’s just an honor to be on the court with him. To share the court with him is a privilege.”

After winning their 20th career crown together as a team, Mahut was asked if this was his team’s best year after winning both Roland Garros and the Nitto ATP Finals. He said: “I don’t know, it’s tough to compare. But winning the Grand Slam at home was really special and finishing the year like this is a great achievement. I hope we have a few more good years together.”

By the numbers

• Sunday’s final between Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev marked the first time since 2005 at Shanghai (David Nalbandian vs. Roger Federer) that neither finalist was over age 25. It’s also the first time since 2015 at London that former champions are meeting in the final.

• With back-to-back wins over World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev became the fourth player in tournament history to earn semifinal and final wins over the Top Two players in the FedEx ATP Rankings. It was previous achieved by Ivan Lendl in 1982, Stefan Edberg in 1989 and Andre Agassi in 1990.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut are the first doubles team to reach three Nitto ATP Finals championship matches in a four-year span since Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, both of India, lost title matches in 1997, 1999 and 2000. The French team improved to 34-12 in 2021.

“Quotable …”

“We’ll see. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, World No. 1, following his Saturday night semifinal loss to Alexander Zverev, was asked during his press conference whether he will play in Melbourne in January and defend his title, after it was confirmed by Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley that all players must be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to compete.

Asked if he thought it was the correct decision and whether he had been in recent contact with Tennis Australia, the governing body of tennis in Australia, Djokovic said: “I haven’t been talking to them, to be honest. I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be. Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see.”