London | Zverev claims Nadal’s scalp
Did we witness the changing of the guard for real when Rafa Nadal lost to Alexander Zverev 6-2 6-4 in the pair’s first round-robin match in the ATP Tour finals at the 02?
It's definitely a place and a court that I love, and that brings maybe the best out of me. I'm super happy especially me struggling the whole year. Alexander Zverev
True, Zverev is the reigning champion and, as it stands, Nadal remains at world No.1.
But the German victor, thought to be at the head of the NextGen, has not moved beyond a quarter-final in the three Grand Slams he competed in this year in the wake of his 2018 triumph under the dome. And Nadal and fellow thirtysomething Novak Djokovic shared all this season’s majors between them.
Yet the manner of the victory over Nadal more than hinted at Zverev being capable of retaining his crown and moving on to major glory instead of disappointment providing he can maintain such form.
Zverev was euphoric with his two-set dismantling of a 19-Slam champion trying to win the end-of-season event for the first time.
He said: “This means so much, playing here again after winning my biggest title so far in my career here last year. This means everything to me.
“I was looking forward to this match. The atmosphere is the reason why everybody is trying, the goal of the beginning of the season is to make London. Because playing here, playing in The O2 is something that we don’t have during the year, and this is so special.
“It’s definitely a place and a court that I love, and that brings maybe the best out of me. I’m super happy especially me struggling the whole year. Obviously when I’m here, I want to use the opportunity as much as I can and do the best as I can.”
His huge serve – averaging not far of 140mph – largely overwhelmed the under-performing Spaniard, whose short returns were consistently punished by his 22-year-old opponent.
Zverev, who has beaten Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the tournament, said: “I did play pretty well. But, you know, the whole thing was about the serve. I think he was serving actually pretty well. I didn’t see massive difference there. But obviously when I play this aggressive – I have now beaten all three guys on this court, big 3 – it shows that I can play very well and beat the top players.”
Zverev’s dominance was emphasised by the fact he won 88 per cent of the points on his first serve and Nadal was unable to force even one break point.
He raced to a set and break up, before a temporary wobble when he threw in back-to-back double faults. But the German, seeded seven, got his eye back in to hold.
Nadal was broken twice in the first set and although he made a game of it in the second, it was clear he would end up licking his wounds with the level of performance produced by Zverev.
The Spaniard came into the tournament having had injuries to his hand and stomach to overcome in the back end of the season while contending with Old Father Thyme at the age of 33.
But Nadal refused to make excuses.
He said: “It was not a problem with the abdominal at all. I did not feel pain in the abdominal at all. No, just Sascha, well played, and me, bad played, honestly. We can find reasons or excuses, but at the end of the day, what all really matters is I need to play much better in two days after tomorrow. That’s the only thing.
“Yeah, we knew that going to be tough at beginning, because the period of time since the injury until today is very short, but we are here trying, and that’s it, no? I stay positive. I stay competitive, something that today I was not.
“That’s the thing that I am more disappointed, because knowing that I will not be at my 100% in terms of feelings, in terms of movement, in terms of confidence or hitting the ball, I needed my best competitive spirit this afternoon, and I was not there in that way. So that’s the thing that I’m disappointed with.”