– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
LONDON — No one can blame 21-year-old Alexander Zverev, just minutes after winning the biggest tournament of his career, and an event that, for all intents and purposes, comprises tennis’s unofficial “fifth major,” for not wanting to talk too much about the future, with a trophy in hand and a much-deserved vacation to look forward to.
However, how can the talk of Zverev’s potential not be on the lips of almost every tennis fan after winning the Nitto ATP Final against the imperious Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 6-3, and claiming the season-ending championship? Ordained as the future of tennis for a couple of years now, the rangy, hard-serving, 6-foot-6, Zverev has already made a mark on the top of the men’s game, already the owner of three Masters 1000 titles.
But defeating Djokovic, owner of the last two Grand Slam trophies who had won 35 of his last 37 matches going into Sunday, was not supposed to happen just yet. But it did. What’s next to happen with Zverev can only been measured in future Grand Slam trophies.
But that can wait for the future. It’s time for Zverev to enjoy the present.
“This [trophy] is blinding me right now. It’s great, but the future, we still got multiple and multiple years for all of us ahead,” Zverev said. “A lot of things can happen. A lot of things can change.”
What most people hope changes for Zverev is his disappointing form in major tournaments, as his quarterfinal run at Roland Garros this season marks his only foray into the final right of a major so far. In London, there were no sleepers or court specialists that Sascha had to come up against: Every match was going to be against one of the best in the world.
In the round robin, Zverev won matches against fellow hard-servers Marin Cilic and John Isner, with his only loss coming against, you guessed it, Djokovic. While his round robin play was good enough to get him to the semifinals, most expected his matchup against Roger Federer to be just a foregone conclusion, something to entertain the tennis world before a much-anticipated Federer-Djokovic final.
Zverev then chose the right time to put some of the doubts of his big-match ability to bed, as he defeated Federer 7-5, 7-6 (5) to set up a rematch with Djokovic, who made short work of Zverev, 4-6, 1-6, in the round robin.
Once again, Zverez stepped up his game, specifically on his return, as he won 65 percent of his second-serve return points. After not being broken at any point during the ATP Finals, Djokovic was broken four times by Zverev, who only dropped serve once in the match.
On match point, a Djokovic shot that sailed long sent Zverev crumpling to the ground overcome with emotion. The end-of-year victory may very well just be the beginning of a reign of German excellence on the tennis court not seen since the great Boris Becker — the last German to win the ATP Finals.
“I mean, obviously this is the biggest title of my career so far,” Zverev said. “This trophy means a lot, everything, to all the players. I mean, you only have so many chances of winning it. You play against the best players only. How I played today, how I won it, for me it’s just amazing.”