ALEXANDER Zverev reached his first Nitto ATP Finals championship decider at the second attempt by defeating six-time title winner Roger Federer 7-5 7-6 over just 1hr.35min at the 02 in London.
It marked the wind of change with the 21-year-old seeing off a veteran opponent rated the greatest of all time.
I'm sorry this happened. I didn't mean to upset anybody. I apologised to Roger at the net already, he said it is OK and it is in the rules. Alexander Zverev
But it was a bittersweet experience as the German third seed was booed loudly by the majority of the 17,000 fans during the post-match interview.
The crowd, mostly pro-Federer supporters, were incensed he had stopped a rally at 4-3 to the Swiss in the second-set tie-break, telling Brazilian umpire Carlos Bernardes “wait, wait, wait” and pointing to the far end of the court where a ball boy behind Federer had dropped a spare ball. The point was replayed and the German aced his 37-year-old opponent.
Choking back the emotions, Zverev told Tennis Threads that he was “really upset” by the crowd reaction in the locker room afterwards.
The third seed, the first German to reach the final since Boris Becker in 1996, said: “I’m not going to lie, I had to take a few minutes to myself. Obviously a lot of emotions going on through my head.”
The youngest semi-finalist since Martin Juan del Potro in 2009 added: “It was a very happy moment for me that I won the match. I was in the finals. But it was a very sad moment in the same time because that was not the way I wanted to win.
“When the booing was happening, it’s never a nice feeling. Especially I said to Roger sorry at the net afterwards. And he said, You have absolutely nothing to apologise for, don’t worry about it’.
“But the crowd, maybe some of the people didn’t know what actually happened, what the situation was. We were kind of in a rally, then after that I served an ace, which didn’t help the situation either.
“I was very emotional afterwards. The booing went into cheering kind of afterwards, which kind of helped me, as well.
“There was obviously a lot of Roger fans. He deserves to have them all over the world. He’s a greatest player of all time and also one of the greatest people.I hope the crowd and the people who were booing maybe look at what actually happened, maybe just realise that I’ve maybe not done anything wrong.
“I played really well. I played really aggressive from start to finish. I knew I had to be the one that was aggressive, kind of not letting Roger dictate. If Roger dictates, you have no chance of winning a match.”
Zverev was clearly in a distressed and distracted state as he ruffled his hair while talking to the BBC’s Annabel Croft.
He told the crowd: “First of all I’d like to apologise for the situation in the tie-break. The ball boy dropped the ball. It is in the rules that we have to replay the point. I apologised to Roger at the net already and he told me ‘it’s okay, it’s obviously in the rules’.
“There’s a lot of Roger’s fans here which he deserves after what he’s achieved and the kind of guy he is he should have the most fans in the world especially here in London (where Federer has won eight Wimbledons and two ATP finals).
“The crowd have been amazing. Been absolutely fair the whole match. Again, I’m very sorry this happened. I didn’t mean to upset anybody. That’s all I can say. Sorry.
“I’m unbelievably proud (of being the first German since Becker in the final). Working so hard for this it’s so great to have the opportunity to play in the final. I’m a little bit upset now about the situation. How it all ended because it is not how I wanted it to end. I hope I have many more great matches here.
“Maybe….I don’t know what to say, I’m sorry. I’m a little lost right now.”
And he disappeared into the locker room via a comforting word from ATP president Chris Kermode in the tunnel leading to it with cheers beginning to intersperse the catcalls.
Croft, a former player working for the BBC, chastised the fans at the height of the booing: “I’m not sure why you’re all booing because he is telling the truth. The ball boy did move across the court and disrupted play. Those are the rules so I think you all have to be a little more respectful.”
Finals director Adam Hogg added: “Astonishingly disappointing reaction from the crowd”.
Former British No.1 Tim Henman described it as “disappointing.”
It was an impressive performance overall from Zverev. He has a big game from the baseline but enjoyed success by attacking the net more than usual and putting away a series of volleys.
It was nip and tuck in the opening set when Federer uncharactistically hit a series of unforced errors to gift it to Zverev.
Federer went a break up in the second but immediately dropped his serve before the set drifted into the tie-break.
There were no mini-breaks until the tenth point when Federer netted a forehand to give Zverev two match points at 6-4. He took the second of them.
Federer, the record 20 Grand Slam winner, said on the rally-halting controversy: “I don’t know what’s rules are. I just think I was trying to think what would I have done in his position. It’s bold to stop the rally because I don’t know if it’s an umpire’s decision or not.
“While you’re hitting, that might go through your head. So I would have probably said, Whew, I’ll probably keep on playing, unless the ball really rolls into the court quick.
“It’s a very difficult call. I didn’t see it. The umpire didn’t see it. But once the ball boy said that’s what happened, linesman confirmed, the umpire believes them, which is obviously true, what is there to be done? It’s normal to replay the point from that point on. It was obviously a big call. Instead of being in the rally in a decent position, you get aced, yes, it makes a difference. It could have made a difference. That’s all hypothetically speaking now at this point.”
Even though Zverev behaved within the rules, was there an element of gamesmanship?
Federer said: “I’m not questioning Sascha’s sportsmanship in any way. I think, like I said before, it’s a bold move by Sascha to stop the rally because the umpire can just say, Sorry, buddy, you’re in the rally. I don’t care. You lost the point. I didn’t see it’.
“That’s where I just wanted to double-check with the umpire, what is the situation. But not for a second there was a sportsmanship situation there. It was just totally an umpire’s decision with the ball kid and the lines person, as well, just making sure they got the facts right.
“I don’t know what the rule says. I always thought it was an umpire’s decision, not a player’s decision. In practice we stop rallies all the time when balls come flying from the second court. Like this, in that kind of a circumstance, it was a tough one for everybody involved, also for Sascha.”
Did speak to the ball boy?
Federer said: “ No. Maybe he’s coming to dinner, I don’t know! Give me a smile, don’t be too serious, please. It was a joke. I just asked him, Did you drop the ball? I didn’t understand what he said. I said, Did you drop the ball? He said, Yes, I did drop the ball. From that standpoint, it’s, Okay, no problem, that happens.
“It’s all good. I hope he doesn’t have a sleepless night. It’s not a big deal at the end of the day. It could have been if maybe I win the next point. Whatever happened, this is life, this is sports. I’m definitely not mad at him. It’s all good, you know, from my side.
Can he win the title?
Federer said: “Yes, of course. He’s obviously a good player, so clearly there’s all the chances there to win. There’s only one match left. He’s a top-five player. There you go. He’s got what it takes to win against anybody.”
Defeat ended Federer’s hopes of a 100th career title.
He said: “I don’t need it (a 100th title). I will breathe air also if I don’t!
“The plan is to play again next year, and come up with a good schedule that suits my family, suits Mirka, me. That’s why it’s good that we have time now. Also that suits fitness coach, physio, coaches, and everybody. Yeah, looking forward to that process. I like taking decisions, so it’s all good.”