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Reigning ATP Finals champion Daniil Medvedev has just enough answers to squeak past Alexander Zverev
The world No. 2 prevailed, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6), on Tuesday to take control of the Red Group in Turin and notch a fifth consecutive win over the German.
Published Nov 16, 2021
HIGHLIGHTS: Medvedev overcomes Zverev in Turin
Daniil Medvedev’s 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6) victory over Alexander Zverev in the round-robin phase of the Nitto ATP Finals delivered a lively series of answers, followed by several long-term questions.
The winning answers came swiftly in the third-set tiebreaker, when Medvedev rallied from 4-2 down—on Zverev’s serve—to win six of the next eight points. “Today's match was a matter of few points, was a really close match,” said Medvedev. “I'm just happy that I made it against such a such a strong opponent, especially this year, has so many victories, titles.”
Additional answers surfaced in the form of high-quality tennis from both. Medvedev had won his last six matches at this tournament and of course has felt supremely confident in the wake of his US Open title run. Per the task at hand, he’d beaten Zverev the last five times they’d played one another, including a swift 6-2, 6-2 victory in the semis of Paris ten days ago.
“I always say against a top-10 player for years, which is Sascha, I feel like no matter how many matches you win in a row, you can basically lose the same amount in a row afterwards,” said Medvedev. “Every match was different. Some matches I was in control. Some matches I remember he was up, really in control of the match, where I managed to turn it around.”
Today, after rallying from a 15-40 deficit in the first game, Medvedev rapidly went ahead 3-0, smoothly closed out the opener and held break points in the first game of the second set.
While some competitors appear to merely strike balls and physically impose themselves, Medvedev has an uncanny ability to peck away at his opponents in an implicating way that profoundly reveals their technical and tactical shortcomings. In the case of Zverev, that takes the form of a wobbly second serve and a forehand that he rarely strikes down the line with much force or consistency.
And yet, aware as both players were of that reality, as easily as it would have been for Zverev to get discouraged after dropping the first set versus such an in-form opponent, he instead repeatedly found ways to control the rallies. On the serve front, Zverev got in 86 percent of his first serves, struck 18 aces and only two double-faults and, despite hitting many a second serve at double-digit speeds, won 60 percent of those points. The Zverev backhand also aided his cause, forcefully laced both crosscourt and down-the-line.
Throughout the second set, though, Zverev was the one most frequently backed into a corner. Serving at 4-all, he went down love-30. Two missed forehands from Medvedev brought it to 30-all, at which point Zverev served an ace down the T and subsequently won the game.
The second set tiebreaker flipped in an odd way. Serving at 1-all, Medvedev was called for a foot-fault. Medvedev requested a video challenge that in turn was determined too close to overrule. Clearly distraught by the turn of events—yes, even US Open champions have their moments—Medvedev largely let Zverev take control.
There was scarcely an opening for either player throughout the third set, each man backing up his serve well. The only break point set of the set came when Medvedev served at 5-5, 30-40. He fought it off with a serve hit down the center powerfully enough to extract a long forehand return.
The finish was both compelling and bizarre. Serving at 1-2 in the tiebreaker, Medvedev made a puzzling choice: a serve-and-volley on his second serve. Was this an attempt to mimic how Novak Djokovic had beaten him in Paris? It didn’t work.
Soon, Zverev served at 4-2—one of the best first serves in tennis, primed on a fast indoor court. But Zverev netted a makeable backhand and also lost the next point. At 4-4, Medvedev charged the net mid-rally, leaped to hit a backhand swing volley crosscourt, but did so little with it that the court was wide open for Zverev to drive one of his favorite shots, a backhand down the line. It went long. With Zverev serving at 4-5, Medvedev took advantage of an 85 m.p.h. second serve to rip a massive down the line backhand and earn two match points. On the first, Zverev hit an ace. The second once again saw Medvedev try to serve and volley on his second serve. Zverev torched a crosscourt backhand winner. From 6-all, Medvedev took command of the next two rallies, the last shot a netted backhand from Zverev.
“But then third-set tiebreak, of course both of us were shaken,” said Medvedev. “That's completely normal. Everybody would. Novak, Rafa, Roger. That's why I found it funny, because I think on the TV you don't really see it because I was still going for the shots. I was not missing that much. I made a few great shots, and it was enough to win the match.”
Three years ago, Zverev lost to Djokovic in the round-robin but ended up beating him in the final. That same scenario was on his mind after today’s match. “This is not like any other tournament,” said Zverev. “I am in the tournament still. I still have chance to win the tournament. This is what I'm thinking to myself.”
Time now for the questions. Did you ever think there would be two players, each 6’ 6” tall, each armed with great first serves—but only sporadically comfortable at the net? Clearly, this is the upside area for each of these two. But will that happen? Or can it? Is contemporary pro tennis truly so demanding that neither Medvedev nor Zverev will consider occasionally playing doubles as a way to improve his prowess in the front part of the court? Or is that a ridiculous suggestion? Rafael Nadal and Djokovic became better volleyers. Why not Medvedev and Zverev? Surely, such stylistic enhancements would allow these two to pose even more questions.