For Alexander Zverev, 2019 has not quite played out as he envisioned. Yet through his struggles, on and off the court, the German scrapped through to give himself a shot at retaining the ATP Finals crown.
In the final round-robin match at The O2, Zverev handled the pressure of the win-and-in situation by defeating Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 7-6 (4), on Friday evening in London. As a result, the 22-year-old dashed Rafael Nadal’s hopes of winning the event for the first time, and set a semifinal meeting with Dominic Thiem. The Austrian leads their head-to-head series 5-2 and claimed their lone indoor hard-court encounter in 2017 at Rotterdam.
"He had nothing to lose. For me, it was a must-win situation to go through," Zverev said on-court afterwards. "He's probably been the best player in the world over the summer. I played two great matches [this week]. I still got to improve. It doesn't get easier now."
Last month, Medvedev took down Zverev in the Shanghai final to cap off a remarkable stretch of contesting six successive hard-court finals. It was the first time Zverev had lost to the Russian in five meetings, though he admitted Medvedev was a far superior version of himself.
Medvedev entered Friday’s clash with three straight losses and started poorly, relinquishing the lone break point of the set with a forehand error in the opening game. Zverev showed few signs of nerves, and other than a slight lapse in concentration at 5-4, was composed as he powered his way to a one-set lead with a barrage of first serve rockets.
Both players continued to befuddle the returner, as service games zipped by in the second set. After double faulting with an aggressive second serve at 4-4, 30-30, Medvedev brought what he displayed all summer long—pinpoint accuracy and unapologetic freedom—to ensure the match prolonged. Zverev showed a willingness to come forward with Medvedev maintaining a position well behind the baseline, a tactic that was effective throughout the battle.
In the tiebreaker, Medvedev secured the first mini break with a terrific backhand lob, but incorrectly stopped play to challenge on the ensuing point. Zverev got a second dose of help when the world No. 4 pushed a serve long to fall behind 5-3, and closed out the victory on his first match point.