Alexander Zverev caused a huge upset by defeating world No 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 to lift the ATP Finals trophy on Sunday, the biggest title of the youngster’s career.
The 21-year-old became the youngest player to triumph at the season finale since Djokovic in 2008, and the first German to reach and win the championship match at the season finale since 1996, when Boris Becker did it.
Entering the match, all signs were pointing to Djokovic tying Federer’s record of six triumphs at the ATP Finals. The Serbian had won 35 of his previous 37 matches in the leadup to the final, and all 36 of his service games this week at The O2. Four days ago, he had beaten Zverev with the loss of just five games in round-robin play.
From the first point of the match, Zverev showed no fear, standing on the baseline and trading blows with Djokovic, who for the first time all tournament appeared to be scrambling, and not the in-control defensive wall that had diffused attacks from the very best players in the world.
Zverev was especially solid with his two-handed backhand, using good depth to keep Djokovic on the back foot. And perhaps surprisingly, it was the German left standing in many of the longer rallies, refusing to overplay and succumb to the top seed’s defensive pressure as other players had at The O2 this week.
Djokovic entered the match having won 81% of his second-serve points at the year-end championships. But for the first time at the event, he did not dominate neutral rallies, claiming just 35% of his second-serve points against Zverev.
The German earned the only two break points Djokovic faced in his first four matches at the event in their round-robin match, but could not convert either of them. In the final, however, Zverev broke serve four times in 10 return games in a dominating display of tennis.
One year ago, Zverev made his debut at The O2, falling short of reaching the semi-finals. But the 10-time ATP World Tour champion showed his growth, beating six-time champion Roger Federer in straight sets on Saturday and now Djokovic for the victory. It’s the first time a player has beaten both Djokovic and Federer at the same ATP Finals. Zverev’s the first player to beat the top two seeds in the semi-finals and final of the event since Andre Agassi in 1990.
‘This is the biggest title of my career so far. This trophy means a lot, everything, to all the players. I mean, you only have so many chances of winning it. You play against the best players only,” Zverev said. “How I played today, how I won it, for me, it’s just amazing.
‘It’s quite astonishing, winning this title, beating two such players back-to-back, Roger and Novak, in semi-finals and final,’ Zverev added. ‘It means so much. I’m incredibly happy and incredibly proud of this moment right now.
‘I wasn’t trying to overthink it. I just tried to go out there and enjoy the match as much as I can, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the moment. That’s what I did. My serve has been working well the whole week. I had a lot of confidence in it. It all worked out well.
‘I’d like to congratulate Novak on a great week and the second half of the season. You’ve barely lost a match and I’m actually very thankful you lost to me today. We’ve played twice this week. Everyone knows how good of a tennis player you are, but I want to mention how good of a person you are. We’ve had a lot of good talks on life. I appreciate you letting me win the title today.
‘I’d like to thank my Dad, who has coached me all my life. He won’t stop crying until next year, probably.’
Zverev, who earns $2,509,000 and 1,300 ATP Ranking points for his efforts, will finish the year at World No 4 for the second season in a row.
While Djokovic fell short of matching Federer’s record, he has still enjoyed a tremendous rise in the second half of 2018. In June, the Serbian fell as low as No 22 in the ATP Rankings, his lowest point in more than 11 years. But starting with Wimbledon, he won four tour-level titles to claw his way back to the top spot of the ATP Rankings.