Zverev Is Flying As High As Ever; Is World No. 1 Next?

Alexander Zverev finished his 2021 season in the best way possible Sunday evening when he claimed his second Nitto ATP Finals trophy, signalling what could be an even bigger 2022 for the German star.

The 24-year-old is flying high after defeating Daniil Medvedev in the Turin final. Zverev could now be poised to chase Novak Djokovic’s No. 1 spot in the FedEx ATP Rankings alongside Medvedev next year.

“[Things] couldn’t be much better, to be honest. I’m obviously happy with how the season went. I’m happy with the finish of the season,” Zverev said. “It was obviously a great year. To capture the title here has been incredible. Give me the trophy!”

Djokovic on Monday will have a lead of nearly 3,000 points over Medvedev and nearly 4,000 points over Zverev. But with three major titles to defend in 2022 and two rising stars in top form, the Serbian will have his hands full next year.

Since the start of the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev has played the best tennis of his career, winning 32 of his 36 matches to close his season. He earned the singles gold medal in Tokyo, his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati and his second Nitto ATP Finals trophy. Of his four losses during that stretch, three have come against Djokovic (1) and Medvedev (2).

The past two days have shown that when the German is firing, there are no holes in his game. Zverev outplayed Djokovic from the baseline in Saturday’s semi-finals and out served Medvedev in Sunday’s championship clash.

The bugaboos that have caught up to Zverev in the past seem just that — a thing of the past. Over the past few years, double faults have often crept into the right-hander’s game in abundance during pressure moments.

But at this year’s Nitto ATP Finals, he played fearless tennis and won 61 per cent of his second-serve points against the best players in the world. Entering the week, he had only won 50 per cent of points behind his second delivery on the year. Zverev knew he had to play aggressively and when he did, the results showed there is little anyone could do about it.

“You go into the match knowing that you’re playing one of the two best players in the world. I knew that I had to play my best tennis to beat him,” Zverev said after defeating Medvedev. “I did that today. I think I played a very good match. I’m happy with my level. I’m happy with the performance I had.”

Zverev lost a match in Turin this week, but that was in a final-set tie-break against Medvedev, who pushed Djokovic for year-end No. 1 this year before the 34-year-old clinched a record seventh year-end No. 1 finish during the Rolex Paris Masters.

But there is reason to believe next year could be an even tighter race for top spot. Medvedev lifted his first major trophy at the US Open, defeating Djokovic in the final, and Zverev has also proven fit for the biggest matches.

In the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics, he halted Djokovic’s dreams of a Golden Slam. In Turin, he faced the daunting task of playing Djokovic and Medvedev in back-to-back matches, and he passed the test with flying colours to become the fourth player in tournament history to earn semi-final and final wins over the world’s top two players. He is the first to do so since 1990.

Sunday’s victory also gave Zverev the most titles of anyone this year with six, and his 59 tour-level victories are currently best on Tour. The only thing the German has not accomplished is major glory, and the 2020 US Open finalist has his sights set on changing that next year.

“I have succeeded on every single level, and there’s one thing missing,” Zverev said. “I hope I can do that next year.”

Only time will tell if Zverev or Medvedev can hunt down Djokovic for World No. 1. But their chances are looking better than ever.

Medvedev: 'My Serve Didn't Really Have That Spark'

Daniil Medvedev looked set to retain his Nitto ATP Finals crown on Sunday, having won his past five matches against Alexander Zverev, but the Russian missed his service “spark” in the title match.

Five days on from beating the German 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) in Red Group play, Medvedev was at a loss to explain his service woes at the Pala Alpitour in Turin.

“It’s tough to say, maybe some tiredness of the body, maybe mentally I wasn’t 100 per cent,” said Medvedev, after Zverev won 6-4, 6-4 in the final. “Not that I didn’t want to be, but definitely something was missing. I don’t have the answer, but it made the difference.

“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.”

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Zverev Reigns Supreme In Turin

Medvedev hit 59 aces and won a tournament-leading 61 per cent of his second-service points (79/129) in his five matches at the season finale, but the Russian couldn’t beat Zverev for the third time in as many weeks.

“We all try to do something different, to prepare differently or play differently,” said Medvedev, who had also beaten Zverev 6-2, 6-2 at the Rolex Paris Masters on 6 November. “I felt he was doing something differently. Maybe I lost the first break of serve [at 1-1 in the first set] because of this, but at the same time if you make aces you get into the match.

“I tried to change up things I’d been doing, and I felt it was working well, but I just couldn’t return his serve and it was enough for him to win the match… Every time you know he is going to do something new and you have to be prepared for it and the same for them. This time he won, but next time I will try to do something better and try to do something better than him and win.”

In spite of the loss, Medvedev will finish 2021 at No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, having compiled a 58-13 match record and lifted four trophies. He went 11-5 against Top 10 opponents, including victory over Djokovic in the US Open final in September, and a runner-up finish at the Australian Open (l. to Djokovic) in February.


Photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Medvedev believes that Zverev is getting closer to winning a major championship. “Sascha is a great player who is capable of beating anybody, so he definitely can win a Grand Slam, because it’s just obvious.

“But he’s not the only one and that’s where it gets tough. He was in the semi-finals of the US Open and lost in five sets [to Novak Djokovic]. Who knows maybe if he was in the final he might have beaten me. It’s just a matter of every tournament is a different scenario and surface, you have to win seven matches to be a Grand Slam champion. Is he capable? Yes. Is he going to do it? We never know.”

In 2021, Zverev won an ATP Tour-leading 59 matches and six tour-level trophies, including the Tokyo Olympics gold medal (d. Khachanov) and two ATP Masters 1000 title at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Berrettini) and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati (d. Rublev).

Djokovic Reveals What 'Is More Important Than Winning Or Losing'

Novak Djokovic suffered a stinging defeat on Saturday evening in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals against Alexander Zverev, but he still had a big smile on his face as he embraced the German at the net.

They are foes on the court, but friends off it with plenty of respect for one another win or lose.

“Of course we want to win against each other, but there is that respect and appreciation for each other that is more important than winning or losing. That’s something that I always had with Sascha. I really appreciate that,” Djokovic said. “I wish him all the best. He’s a great guy, fantastic tennis player, I’m sure soon to be a Grand Slam champion.”

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Zverev Downs Djokovic, Reaches Turin Final

Zverev also ended Djokovic’s dreams of completing a Golden Slam earlier this year in the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics. Although the Serbian was disappointed not to triumph in Turin and tie Roger Federer’s record for most Nitto ATP Finals titles (6), he did not show it when congratulating the 2018 champion.

“Sascha is also a friend off the court. We get along very well. Not easy to be very close obviously when you’re rivals, playing that much against each other on the biggest stage,” Djokovic said. “But we talk a lot about life, about a lot of different things. I’m always happy to share some of my experiences with him. We’ve always had a wonderful relationship.”

Djokovic dominated on his serve for much of the match — he won 87 per cent of his first-serve points, fired 15 aces and was only broken once. But Zverev also served well, taking 63 per cent of his second-serve points. One of those second-serve points came when the German faced break point at 4-2 in the third set, and he got out of trouble when the World No. 1 launched a neutral forehand long.

“He’s one of the best servers in the world… He showed tonight why that is a fact. He got himself out of trouble a few times with [his] serve,” Djokovic said. “I was serving pretty good, as well. I just had the one very bad game in the third set. Three forehands, one backhand unforced error, really from pretty easy positions. [I] just really wasted the match in that game. Even though I thought it was quite even, had some chances to come back, 2-4 down in the third, just missed again, a forehand long.

“[It was a] tough match. But I enjoyed it. I thought it was a really good battle, really high-quality tennis. We pushed each other, as we always do.”

The match lasted two hours and 28 minutes, but Djokovic was adamant he was not tired. He simply played one bad game in the decider and it cost him.

“I could have gone for another few hours, no problem. It was just a bad game, 2-1 down in the third set, a very bad game, four unforced errors,” Djokovic said. “In the conditions like this where you have one of the biggest servers in the game, it’s just difficult to come back from that. That’s all it is.”

Djokovic still had a tremendous season. In 2021, he broke Federer’s mark for the most weeks at World No. 1 and finished atop the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings for a record-breaking seventh time — passing his idol, Pete Sampras.

The recent Rolex Paris Masters champion also claimed three major titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon to draw level with Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in history with 20. This was also his 10th trip to the semi-finals of the season finale.

“It was a great season, no doubt. I did not play many tournaments, but still managed to end the year at No. 1 for the seventh time, broke records for the year-end No. 1, historic No. 1, won three out of [the] four Slams,” Djokovic said. “The year was phenomenal. Maybe could have done better in some other ATP events. But all in all really good ending of the season as well with a title in Paris and semi-finals here.”

Ruud: 'I Am Proud Of The Year'

Following his loss to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals, Casper Ruud was in a reflective mood on Saturday as he looked back fondly on his breakthrough season and the experience he has gained in Turin.

The 22-year-old won five tour-level titles and became the first Norwegian to crack the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2021.

“It has been a great year for me and my development as a tennis player,” Rudd said. “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.”

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Ruud was making his debut at the season finale and went 2-1 in Green Group action as he advanced to the semi-finals. It is a tournament the World No. 8 feels will be crucial for his development as he aims to return to the Pala Alpitour next year.

“I got the perfect feedback on what I have to work on in my game to compete with the top guys in the world for next year,” Rudd said. “I played the World No. 1 and No. 2 this week and they beat me fairly comfortably, so that makes me want to seek revenge and become a better player next year.

“When next year starts, I will have it in the back of my mind. Every week and every match matters. It was only a couple of matches that made the difference of qualifying for the tournament. I am proud of the year and am looking forward to next year. If I can keep playing well, I can have another year like this year.”

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Medvedev Marches Into Turin Final

A large part of Ruud’s success has been down to his differing fortunes on hard courts, with the 22-year-old capturing his first tour-level title on the surface in San Diego in October. Prior to this year, Ruud held a 16-27 tour-level record on hard. But he went 25-10 this season on the surface.

On his improvement, Ruud said: “I have brought a lot of match confidence playing big on big points and winning the right points in many matches. Many of the matches I have played this year have been decided by only two or three points. The majority of all of my wins have been decided by only a few points, but that is something you build up when you play a lot of matches.

“It is easy to doubt yourself in the toughest moments, but this year has been great for me when it has come down to this as I have played aggressively and well on the biggest points.”

Djokovic: ‘There Is Always Motivation For History’

Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of a record-equalling sixth Nitto ATP Finals title will go up a level on Saturday when he faces Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals in Turin.

The World No. 1 downed Cameron Norrie to finish the round-robin stage with a perfect 3-0 record, but expects a tough challenge against Zverev as he aims to capture the trophy at the Pala Alpitour this weekend to draw level with Roger Federer on six season finale crowns.

“There is always motivation for history, but I am just focusing on tomorrow’s match,” Djokovic said. “It is going to be a big challenge. Sascha is one of the best servers in the game. He has been playing really good tennis and had one of the best seasons in his career. [He has] just played at a very high level throughout the year.

“Indoors, [he is] definitely top two or three players we have. With the big serve, he is equally as good offensively and defensively. It is going to be a battle, but I am ready for it. We all want to finish the year in the best possible way.”

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Ruthless Djokovic Downs Norrie In Turin

Djokovic, who last held aloft The Brad Drewett Trophy in 2015, has earned 51 tour-level wins this season, having gone 27-1 major in major championship play. The 34-year-old drew level with Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors earlier this year and captured his record-breaking 37th ATP Masters 1000 crown in Paris.

It has led to former World No. 1 Pete Sampras calling Djokovic the greatest player to ever grace the court.

When reflecting on Sampras’ praise, Djokovic said: “This means the world to me, especially as it is coming from someone who is a role model. He was the one when he played his first Wimbledon final, it was my first image of tennis. He made me dream to become a champion like him and hold the Wimbledon trophy and become World No. 1.

“He is one of the best players of all time in our sport and for something like that to come out of his mouth is extremely satisfying for me to hear.”

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Ruud's Search For Clues To Solve Medvedev Riddle

Casper Ruud will be trawling through old matches ahead of his semi-final at the Nitto ATP Finals, looking for clues as to how to beat World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on Saturday.

Speaking after overcoming Andrey Rublev on Friday to go 2-1 in Green Group action, the Norwegian admitted, “Tomorrow, I hope I can have the crowd on my side as I’m playing the World No. 2 and I’d appreciate the support. I will fight and run until I am too tired to run. I have lost to him twice before, so I have to come up with a better game plan tomorrow.”

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Ruud Sets Medvedev SF Showdown In Turin

Medvedev, the Nitto ATP Finals defending champion, has gotten the better of Ruud in their two previous matches at the 2020 ATP Cup and at the Mallorca Championships in June. The Russian is 12-2 indoors this year and five of his 13 tour-level crowns have come on indoor hard courts. 

“I will go tonight and look at the match ups against myself, then look at footage of [Dominic] Thiem versus Medvedev in the past,” said Ruud. “I’m not similar to Dominic, but we do both play with quite a lot of topspin from the forehand. I think we both prefer to play the heavier shots with a lot of spin. Dominic has the potential to play so fast also, has a good slice, an unbelievable backhand, and I’d be interested to see what he has done in the past.”

“The past two or three years, Daniil have proved that he deserves to be on top of the world and tomorrow it will be my task to surprise him and try to beat him. It will obviously be tough, he is a great player, especially on an indoor hard-court. He has also struggled a bit [this week]. I think three matches in three sets, so he hasn’t been flawless and I hope I can find a way to force some errors from our match.”

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The 22-year-old Ruud, who recovered to beat Rublev 2-6, 7-6, 7-6(5) at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, has now won 11 straight deciding sets since losing to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Roland Garros in May.

“My best service performance was against Cameron [Norrie on Wednesday], not the start, but in the second and third sets,” said Ruud, who has won 55 matches and lifted five ATP Tour trophies in 2021. “My serve got better as the match went on today. I have been working on it since Paris, also knowing in practice that the courts would be difficult to return on.”

“It was a great feeling and a relief [today], on the match point, to serve an ace. The toughest thing about the sport is the more you win, the more matches you play, and they become tougher. It’s the first time I have experienced the Nitto ATP Finals and I hope to play a good match [tomorrow].”

Medvedev Pleased To Keep Momentum Going In Turin

After soaring through the Red Group with three consecutive round-robin victories at the Nitto ATP Finals, Daniil Medvedev is feeling in good shape ahead of the semi-finals in Turin.

Having already qualified for the last four after defeating Alexander Zverev, the Russian faced Jannik Sinner Thursday with seemingly relatively little on the line. However, in a hard-fought clash, Medvedev saved two match points to defeat the Italian in a third-set tie-break and believes it was an important win to maintain his confidence.

“You want to win and keep the momentum, but at the same time you don’t want to go three hours 30 minutes and break your body,” Medvedev said. “The first set was tricky because in a way it was good as it was 30 minutes in my favour and I played a pretty good level.

“The second set I was 100 per cent as I wanted to try and finish the match quickly, which didn’t happen as Jannik played a great level. I am just happy to win and I will just try to be ready for Saturday.”

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The 25-year-old won the title at the season finale last year in London and has beaten Hubert Hurkacz, Zverev and Sinner in Turin this week, adjusting to the fast conditions well. When reflecting on the round-robin stage, Medvedev was happy with where his game is at.

“I think the serve was really good throughout my three matches,” Medvedev said. “I got broken for the first time today. I hit a lot of aces and first serves in. When you win three matches out of three you like everything, but with the fast conditions here the serve is really important.”

The World No. 2 will next face either Andrey Rublev or Casper Ruud in the semi-finals on Saturday and will prepare for the clash over the next day.

“I am going to watch the match tomorrow and then prepare for the winner,” Medvedev said. “Sometimes it can be an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage when you have a day off before the semis, but that is how it is and I am going to take it well.”

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Sinner On Turin Experience: 'I Grew As A Player, But Also As A Person'

Jannik Sinner was disappointed, but philosophical on Thursday night after his 6-0, 6-7(5), 7-6(8) loss to Daniil Medvedev at the Nitto ATP Finals.

The 20-year-old was roared on by a passionate crowd at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, where the fans were desperate to see another victory for the Italian No. 2, who had replaced the injured Matteo Berrettini in the field.

“It was a great year for sure,” said Sinner. “[There were] a lot of highlights and playing here especially, it was a great feeling. I grew as a player, but also as a person, which for me is very important.

“I think it was a great season and whether someone [would have] expected it or not, I don’t know. But when you are, I think I started the year [at No.] 37 and finishing [in the] Top 10 [of the FedEx ATP Rankings], it’s great. For me, it’s a big pleasure to be one of these incredible players.

“On the other hand, I know what I have to improve, my team knows that as well, so it’s going to be interesting next year. But I don’t want to rush, that’s for me the main goal. I’m 20, next year I’m 21, there’s still many, many years that I can play on the Tour.”

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Sinner led 4-2 in the decider and held two match points in the third-set tie-break, but was ultimately defeated by World No. 2 Medvedev, who remains unbeaten at the Nitto ATP Finals since losing all three matches he played on his debut in 2019.

Sinner’s debut at the season-ending finale has been more successful – he beat Hubert Hurkacz on Tuesday, becoming the youngest player to win his first match at the Nitto ATP Finals since Lleyton Hewitt in 2000.

The Italian, who has guaranteed that he will finish the year inside the Top 10 with his Nitto ATP Finals win over Hurkacz, said he was proud of the way he had bounced back from losing the first set 6-0.

“The first set, obviously, I was a little nervous,” said Sinner. “There were moments where he was not missing any balls and I tried to find a solution somehow. Then after I took a little bit more time, [I] tried to understand how to play against him. I found a solution a little bit.”

“Obviously, there were some moments when I was a little bit unlucky, but he is World No. 2 and he played an unbelievable match. Today, also, I tried my best. The atmosphere helped me a lot, so. I think it was a great match. Obviously, it was not the way I want to end it, but I think I can be proud that after a first set like this, I found a solution, which was the best thing to do.”

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Sinner says the experience in Turin will give him a lot of confidence for 2022.

“It can give me a lot of confidence for the next year, in one way. In another way, I know I have still to improve many things,” Sinner said. “Now we have time to do that, especially physically, and then we will see next year what’s coming.”

Zverev On Djokovic Semi-final: 'I'm Expecting Another Tough One'

Alexander Zverev has set his sights on raising his game for a semi-final blockbuster against Novak Djokovic on Saturday at the Nitto ATP Finals.

The German star, who beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-2, 6-4 to complete Green Group action with a 2-1 record on Friday, has already played World No. 1 Djokovic four times this season.

“We have played each other in basically every single big hard-court event this year, at the ATP Cup, Australian Open, Olympics and US Open,” said Zverev, who beat Djokovic en route to the Tokyo Olympics gold medal in August. “So it’s only right that we play each other here as well.”

Djokovic won their ATP Cup clash 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5 in February and 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6) in the Australian Open quarter-finals. Zverev won their Tokyo semi-final 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, before Djokovic beat the 24-year-old once again, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, in the US Open semi-finals.

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“I’m looking forward to it,” said Zverev, ahead of their 11th ATP Head2Head meeting. “It’s always interesting and close when we play each other, so I’m expecting another tough one… There will be a lot of long rallies, we will run a lot more and suffer, in a way, a lot more as well.

“I think every single match we have played has been close. We’ve needed to be at our best and one or two points decided the matches. I expect no different here as well.”

The World No. 3 knows that Djokovic has a strong following in Italy, but Zverev has also enjoyed his time in Turin. “I love Italy a lot and I think the fans can relate to me as well,” said Zverev, who won the 2017 Internazionali BNL d’Italia crown in Rome. “The food is great… I feel that the Italian fans are louder, they are electric and into the sport.”

Hurkacz: 'I Have Gained A Lot Of Experience'

Hubert Hurkacz may have not won a match on his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin this week, but the Pole believes he has lots of positives to take from competing at the event as he looks to return next year.

The 24-year-old demonstrated his capabilities as he claimed the first set in his opening match to Daniil Medvedev before losing in three. Hurkacz then fell to Jannik Sinner and Alexander Zverev in the Red Group as he was unable to find top form at the Pala Alpitour.

“I have gained a lot of experience,” Hurkacz said. “I definitely want to be back here and compete at a better level because I know I can play better than I played this week. I started well and then just didn’t’ play well enough and sometimes that happens.”

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Hurkacz earned his place at the season finale after enjoying a breakthrough season. The World No. 9 captured tour-level titles in Delray Beach and Metz, while he also clinched his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in Miami.

When reviewing his year following his final match of 2021, the Wimbledon semi-finalist was pleased with the success he has achieved, but admits he can make further improvements.

“I think it was a great season. I learned a lot, which was very big for me. The improvements I have made [gave me] the opportunity to be here and compete here. I am learning about what to work on. It is nice to have a lot of things to improve in my game. My return and my forehand are things I want to work on.”

Medvedev and Sinner will round off Red Group action on Thursday evening. Medvedev has already secured top spot, with Alexander Zverev qualifying in second following his victory against Hurkacz.

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