Novak Djokovic looked dominant through much of the latter parts of 2018–including Major titles at Wimbledon and the US Open–and the Serbian appeared unbeatable through his first four matches at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals. Djokovic won all three of his group stage matches and easily dispatched Kevin Anderson in the semifinals. Challenger Alexander Zverev, meanwhile, earned his semifinal spot by beating John Isner in straight sets on Friday.
Zverev and Djokovic met in the round robin stage of the ATP Finals, and the result was a relatively easy straight sets victory for Djokovic. Zverev, fresh off an upset of Roger Federer on Saturday, was a huge underdog coming into this match. Everyone expected Djokovic to tie Federer’s record of six ATP Finals titles and continue his match on the tennis record books. The young German, though, had other ideas.
The match was pretty straightforward from the start, with each player holding serve without too much trouble. Djokovic looked a little better off in the Zverev service games, but no one appeared to be a real threat. In the ninth game of the set, with the score 4-4, Djokovic clearly tightened up. The pair played a marathon game, with Djokovic saving multiple break points. However, the World #1 could not hold off the young German forever, and eventually Zverev broke through to earn the break. A quick service game later, and the 21-year-old was one set from the biggest title of his career.
The second set was nervy, with each player giving away a break with a loose game at the start. Zverev, however, got a second break at 1-1, and he held on from there. He dug himself out of a 0-30 hole while up 3-2, and wasn’t troubled again before serving out the match. He showed incredibly poise in finishing up a huge victory over the top player in the world. He ended the match on an incredible backhand passing shot, and deservedly fell to the court in celebration.
The tennis world has been waiting a decade to see who the next star will be after Federer, Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. Some players have shown potential–Juan Martin del Potro could have been the next man up if not for a career marred by injuries–but we finally seem to have a player from the next generation really stepping up. Zverev has won three Masters 1000 titles already, and now he is the youngest champion of the ATP Finals since Lleyton Hewitt back in 2000. Zverev’s one issue is that he always seems to underperform at the Majors, but maybe this victory will help him fix that in the future.
This loss won’t be great for Djokovic–he certainly would have loved to tie Federer’s record–but it’s not a bad one long-term. His attitude in the match will be something he will have to address, but he has overcome that his entire career. He also appeared to physically struggle at times, so–at the age of 31–he may now need to consider shortening his season, like Federer and Nadal have. Still, he will enter 2019 as the man to beat, and deservedly so.
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