The anticipated clash between the two players finishing the year at the top of the world rankings, has been spoilt by Alexander Zverev beating the world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in Turin, 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3.
There is only the best here, so it takes a lot to win this tournament Alexander Zverev
That meeting between the top two seeds would have provided a fitting conclusion to the ATP calendar year though Germany’s Zverev, the world No.3, no doubt is keen to establish himself a member of a new ‘Big Three’ which he is doing fast!
Djokovic had beaten Zverev comfortably in their Green Group match but in the semi-final, it was the 24-year-old from Hamburg who had the greater patience as he outlasted the 34-year-old Serbian in some of the lung-busting rallies they played out, especially in the opening set.
Djokovic had some chances late in that first set but had to wait until the second to make some sort of a breakthrough as both were serving to a high level, taking the ball early and striking it with some ferocity.
But some errors and a missed backhand in the third proved costly for Djokovic allowing Zverev to pull ahead 3-1 and, while staving off his opponent’s attempts at recovery, managed to close out the match to score another huge win over the Serb to match the victory over him at the same stage in the Tokyo Olympic last summer.
“Every time we play it takes hours,” Zverev said on the court after the win. “I have not spent more time on court with anybody other than him this year. I am happy with the win and happy to be in the final here and to give myself the best chance for tomorrow.”
Djokovic has now lost two of his last three to Zverev and has failed in his attempt to match Roger Federer’s record of six ATP Final successes.
“He’s one of the best servers in the world,” Djokovic admitted. “He showed tonight why that is a fact. He got himself out of trouble a few times with (his) serve.
“I was serving pretty good, as well. I just had the one very bad game in the third set. Three forehands, one backhand unforced error, really from pretty easy positions. Just really wasted the match in that game. Even though I thought it was quite even, had some chances to come back, 2-4 down in the third, just missed again, a forehand long.
“Tough match. But I enjoyed it. I thought it was a really good battle, really high-quality tennis. We pushed each other, as we always do.”
But he still ends the year on a high, though no doubt rueing what could have been.
The Tokyo loss was his first major disappointment but having lost the opportunity of a Golden Grand Slam, Daniil Medvedev snatched the US Open title for himself to prevent him recording a calendar Grand Slam of all four majors and edge ahead of his two main rivals with 21 grand slam wins.
Nonetheless he has won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, extended his time at the top of the rankings to a record 347 weeks and has ended the year at the top of the rankings for a seventh time, another new record.
“It was a great season, no doubt. I did not play many tournaments, but still managed to end the year at No. 1 for the seventh time, broke records for the year-end No. 1, historic No. 1, won three out of four Slams,” he said.
“The year was phenomenal. Maybe could have done better in some other ATP events. But all in all, really good ending of the season as well with a title in Paris (Masters) and semi-finals here.”
But the man who is fast becoming a thorn in Djokovic’s side, Daniil Medvedev, the defending ATP Finals champion, cruised through to this year’s final with his 9th consecutive win at the event, dispatching Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-4 6-2.
“I think all the matches were a great level,” the Russian said of his excellent week’s work so far.
“Different opponents and different styles. I managed to win all the matches. It was not an easy match. When you are in the final you can’t complain, so I am just looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully I can have my best match.”
Reflecting on his semi-final victory, Medvedev added: “It was a great match because I felt that watching Casper this year he’s one of the smartest players on the tour.
“It’s a tough match no matter the score and I’m pleased that I managed to break him from time to time and this made the difference today.”
For the 22-year-old Ruud also, despite the loss, it’s been a fantastic year and he should be back at the ATP Finals in future years as he gains more experience.
“It has been a great year for me and my development as a tennis player,” Rudd confirmed.
“Getting to know my opponents more and playing this tournament has been a great experience. To finish a very good year off here in Turin has been a great experience for me and something I will be eager to try and repeat and be back here next year.”
Looking ahead to the final itself, it is hard not to place Medvedev as the favourite to win for the second successive year. The last player to achieve back-to-back titles was Djokovic when he put together a run of four between 2012 and 2015.
But one shouldn’t really discount Zverev, who is hungry to repeat the success he had in 2018, when he became champion at the O2.
However, he has lost to the Russian six times in 11 meetings with Medvedev claiming the last five.
“I lost 8-6 in the third (set tie-break) in the group stage, so I am just looking forward to the match as I think it will be a great one,” Zverev said reflecting on the only loss he suffered this week.
“There is only the best here, so it takes a lot to win this tournament,” he continued.
“I am looking forward to having another chance and we are in the final and I am happy to be in the final. He is one of the best players in the world right now, so it is going to be a difficult match no matter what.
“He’s a Grand Slam champion and I’m Olympic gold medallist and maybe we both put that on the line tomorrow,” he concluded.
US Open champion Medvedev though, remains confident following his earlier group stage win.
“Sasha (Zverev), we just played a few days ago you know so tough to say anything special. Big serve, big shots, same forehand and backhand… all round player, runs well, hits well if he has an easy ball to play. Complete player.”
The match should provide an interesting final – one that befits the stature of the event.