Alexander Zverev has claimed the biggest victory of his young career by stunning Novak Djokovic to be crowned champion at the ATP Finals in London.
The 21-year-old – squarely beaten by the world number one in the round-robin stage earlier in the week – laid the first telling marker of his prodigious pedigree with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over the in-form Serbian.
Djokovic had not dropped a single set on his run to the summit clash, but his bid to level Roger Federer’s record mark of six year-end titles was foiled by the German.
Djoker’s Near-Perfect 2018 Finale Spoiled
It had been a dream resurrection for Djokovic since the grass-court season began towards the end of June. In turning the tide, and the clock, from Wimbledon onwards, the 31-year-old had become the first player since Marat Safin in 2000 to claim the summit of the ATP rankings after having been ranked outside the top-20 earlier in the same year.
That run – 31 wins in his last 33 matches coming into the season-ender – had showed no sign of stopping over the past week in London. Coming into the final, Djokovic was aiming to become the first man since Ivan Lendl in 1986 to go through the year-ending finals without dropping a set. Such was his cruise, that his opponent in the title decider had been swatted aside 6-4, 6-1 just four days earlier.
But a perfect end wasn’t to be for the 14-time Grand Slam champion. Zverev, smarter to the tune of his more senior and way more accomplished pro, began cautiously, and was able to edge ahead in the battle with the only break of the opening set.
The second began with a see-saw of service breaks, but it was the third seed who established control with three breaks of the Djokovic serve in a row. Initiative truly seized, Zverev never let go and completed the victory after exactly two hours at the O2 Arena.
Sascha Sashays To Tennis’ New Dawn?
The talent had been ear-marked for long. In 2016, aged all of 19, Zverev took down then three-time defending champion Roger Federer en route his maiden ATP 500 final at Halle. Less than a year later, he emerged victorious in his first meeting with Djokovic, in the final of the Rome Masters no less – for his first big-ticket crown.
But while impressively consistent and showing a capacity to go the distance through the season on tour, the German has also built an unwanted reputation of failing to turn up for the big events.
Which is where the biggest gain from this triumph arrives from: no longer will ‘stage fright’ be considered among the reasons to count Alexander Zverev out for the marquee occasions. That said, Zverev as well as all commentators on the game will be wary of a false dawn from just 12 months ago. Grigor Dimitrov had appeared to have heralded his dawn when he won the 2017 crown in London; he followed it up with an abysmal 24-19 record in 2018, reaching the quarter-final stage only six times in 19 events, and failing to win a single title.
But speaking of statistics, here’s one to keep the ‘Sascha’ camp buzzing all-the-more: by overcoming Federer and Djokovic in a span of just over 24 hours on this dream weekend, Zverev becomes the first player to defeat the decorated duo at the same edition of the ATP Finals. He also becomes the first man to get the better of the top-two seeds in the semis and the final of the event since Andre Agassi in 1990.
And for the ones into omens, there’s more. Zverev is the fourth man to hold his first ATP Finals title at the age of 21 (two won it at 20). The others on that list? His opponent from tonight, Novak Djokovic. His coach, and an eight-time Grand Slam winner, Ivan Lendl. And another German who could play some tennis, the last man to win the ATP Finals in fact, Boris Becker.