JEERS turned to cheers for Alexander Zverev as he crashed into the big boy’s league in tennis by defeating world No.1 Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-3 to lift the Nitto ATP Finals title at the second attempt.
This trophy means a lot, everything, to all the players. You only have so many chances of winning it. You play against the best players only. How I played, how I won it, for me it's just amazing. Alexander Zverev
The 21-year-old became the youngest winner since Djokovic himself in 2008 and the first German since the onlooking Boris Becker claimed the crown 23 years ago.
And it wiped away the bittersweet memories of his semi-final victory over Roger Federer the night before.
Many of the 17,000 barracked him for stopping a rally at 4-3 to Federer in what proved to be the deciding second set because a ballboy had dropped a ball.
And the volume of the boos increased as he tried to conduct a post-match on-court interview.
But all was forgiven as all those inside the 02 Arena in London on Sunday night cheered him to the rafters.
He admitted he and the crowd “had a moment last night” before praising the support saying “it is a pleasure to play in front of you.”
The tears that welled in his eyes were ones of joy rather than upset as he collected the shiny trophy and £2m in prize money as tickertape cascaded from the roof.
The emotional Zverev proved himself the real deal after being rated the leader of the next generation.
Zverev, who joked around with the crowd and Djokovic in an interrupted after-match speech, said : “It means a lot. This is the biggest title of my career so far. This trophy means a lot, everything, to all the players. You only have so many chances of winning it. You play against the best players only. How I played, how I won it, for me it’s just amazing.
“I didn’t know what to expect (from the crowd), to be honest, because yesterday I felt like I’ve done everything right, to be honest, by the rules and how it should have been. But the crowd reaction wasn’t too good to me.
“I was a little bit sad because as tennis players, we take it very personal, this kind of stuff. It’s a one-on one sport, so we take things more personal than other sports. Today, the mindset, I just wanted to enjoy being out there, I just wanted to enjoy competing and playing against the best player in the world. The trophy, I was very happy, but I was very happy to lift it up.”
He revealed he met David Beckham afterwards and celebrated with his pet dog.
He said: “The family dog has been on a lot of courts. I think every court except Wimbledon, because they just would kick him off. It was a great moment obviously taking a moment with the whole team, with my dog there, with my family. It was great. Seeing David again, it was nice.
“I actually took a picture with him three years ago when I was doing ATP University here. I was here watching the final of Roger and Novak, where Novak beat Roger, went on to win this tournament. Being here and being in this position now is quite amazing. I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”
Djokovic, winner of 14 Grand Slams, talked of the possibility of Zverev “surpassing” his achievements.
He smiled: “Oh, Jesus. Oh, my God . I mean, I’ve won one of those (looking at the trophy). He’s won five. He’s won, I don’t know what, 148 titles more than me. Let’s not go there for now. I hope I can do great. I mean, but just chill out a little bit.”
Djokovic went in favourite. He had lived up to his reputation as the best returner in the game., but his serve had proved a thing of wonder. He had had only had one break point – against Zverev which he saved – in all his previous four games at the tournament. Had underlined the form he had shown on a remarkable comeback from elbow surgery in the last six months. And just the night before he had put in what he considered his best performance of an outstanding tournament in crushing 6.6in South African Kevin Anderson in a lopsided semi-final.
And Zverev had suffered boos from most of the crowd earlier in the day after overcoming their favourite Roger Federer, the fans angry he had stopped a rally because a ball boy had dropped a spare ball with the Swiss 4-3 in the second-set tiebreak.
But what a difference a day makes.
We expected Djokovic to maintain or improve from his victory over Anderson and wondered how Zverev would react after being visibly shaken emotionally by the outpouring of negativity against him.
Well, Djokovic struggled to find his A game, and seemed more jaded and less confident.
And there seemed no lingering thoughts of how the fans has turned against him.
The German had lost to Djokovic in the group games, but that defeat had clearly not dented his confidence.
He grew into the tournament from that moment and his defeat of Federer, going for a record seventh title, illustrated that to perfection.
And he used his consistent serve, powerhouse groundstroke from the back of the court.
But what he did best was go for it. Take risks. Passivity largely went out the window as he attacked the net for a series of volleys.
He was puffing his slim chest out and telling Djokovic he was unafraid. His opponent might have won the tournament five times and taken 14 Grand Slam titles, but that did not phase the third seed.
And he was ready for battle from the off.
Each held serve until 4-4 in the first set before Djokovic revealed his mortality by dropping his serve. Zverev stepped up to serve and promptly gave himself three set points with a hat-trick of aces around the 140mph mark.
Serb Djokovic saved one but was unable to keep a return in court to give his opponent the lead.
Zverev’s serve was on fire. He won 88 per cent on his first serve in the opening set, winning 21 out of 24 on it.
And when he broke Djokovic at the start of the second the writing looked on the wall.
But there was what proved a blip in the next game – Zverev’s only bad one – as he dropped his serve.
Unabashed he promptly broke his 31-year-old rival again and held for a 3-1 lead.
And then broke Djokovic again to seal the match, the Serb wobbling, serving a double fault and placing a backhand long to give the German two match points.
Djokovic saved the first but Zverev clinched it on the second with a double-handed backhand as his opponent appeared to leave it, believing it was going out before the ball turned to land in the corner.
Zverev fell forward as if he was going to do a press up and Djokovic came over to his side of the net to congratulate him.
Djokovic said: “I was really happy for him. I mean, obviously it’s not great to lose a tennis match, especially in the finals of a big tournament. Quite disappointed with my game. But I’m happy that he won the big title because we have a really good and friendly relationship.
“We reside in the same place. We train a lot. We see each other a lot. He comes from a really nice family. As he said on the court, share a lot of on-and-off-the court friendly and respectful moments. I mean, obviously you could see how much it means to him. Obviously, he deserved it. He can win a Grand Slam. But we already knew that.”
You had an awful lot of matches in the latter half of the year. Do you feel that has caught up with you?
He said: “Maybe. Yeah, maybe a little bit. Health-wise I haven’t been really perfect in the last three, four weeks. That took a lot out of me. But at the same time I played finals of Bercy and here. I mean, I have to be happy with that result. Of course, finishing the year as No. 1, that was the goal coming into the indoor season. I managed to achieve that. Overall it was a phenomenal season that I have to be definitely very proud of.”
Jack Sockand Mike Bryan claimed the doubles title, The American pair, seeded five, added to their Wimbledon and US Open triumphs by overcoming French duo Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, seeded eight, 5-7 6-1 (13-11). The champions ended the hopes of Britain’s Jamie Murray and Brazilian Bruno Soares in the last-four.