Tag Archives: Alexander Zverev

ATP Finals at the O2 Arena, London

Will we finally see a new face win a men’s Grand Slam in 2020?

For a third straight time, the ATP Finals singles title has been won by a player who isn’t Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.

Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Dominic Thiem in this year’s finale at London’s O2 Arena, following in the footsteps of Alexander Zverev in 2018 and Grigor Dimitrov in 2017. All three were just 21 when lifting the trophy.

So the question now being asked in the men’s game is: will we finally see a new face win any of the four Grand Slam crowns in 2020? Since 2004, only six players other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer have won Slams: Andy Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3), Marat Safin (1), Juan Martin Del Potro (1) and Marin Cilic (1) and Gaston Gaudio (1).

Federer is now 38, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic 32, yet their grip on the sport’s four biggest titles – the Australian, French and US Opens, plus Wimbledon -remains as firm as ever. But there are signs that next season might be the one which ushers in a new era of younger Slam winners.

Defending champion Zverev, 22, defeated Nadal 6-2, 6-4 on day two at this year’s ATP Finals, giving him wins over the all of the big three in the past 12 months. Thiem, 26, claimed victories over Federer and Djokovic in the group stage, reaching the semi-finals and final at the O2 for the first time.

This year’s elite eight-man field in London also included Daniil Medvedev (23) and Matteo Berrettini (23). Thiem was competing in his third consecutive ATP Finals. Slowly but surely, the new generation are starting to make more of an impact.

Rising star

Thus far, however, no player born after 1990 has won a Grand Slam, although three have reached finals. In 2016, Milos Raonic was beaten at Wimbledon by Murray. Thiem lost to Nadal in both the 2018 and 2019 French Open. Medvedev was beaten by Nadal in this season’s US Open, but the rising Russian star forced the Spaniard to spend four hours and 50 minutes winning his 19th Grand Slam.

In the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows, Medvedev overcame Dimitrov. Earlier this year, Tsitsipas and Berrettini reached the semi-final of Australian Open and US Open respectively, but Nadal ended their runs.

Nadal in action at the O2 Arena
Nadal in action at the O2 Arena

Among all players in their 20s, Thiem might be the closest one to his first Grand Slam trophy. The Austrian has more experience compared to his peers and a stable world ranking; he has not been out of the top 10 since 2016.

He also has a strong and long-standing relationship with his coaching team, having worked with Gunter Bresnik since he was just eight years old. Bresnik also coached six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker.

After winning at ATP Finals crown, Tsitsipas declared he was ready to win a Grand Slam, but thus far he has only beaten Federer from that dominant top trio. Zverev, who has had a better overall ranking than the Greek in the past two years, has yet to reach the final four of any Slam event.

But the young guns are making progress. The last time that the ATP Finals line-up had four participants under 23 was 10 years ago, when Nadal (23), Djokovic (22), Murray (22), and Del Potro (21) all featured.

Out of the current big three, it will surely be Federer who is first to decide his time is up. The Swiss legend plans to play at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but will turn 39 during the Games, and retirement is beckoning.

Nadal and Djokovic may both yet overhaul Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, but both have had injuries that will start to slow them down. Murray has returned after hip resurfacing surgery, but it is generally felt unlikely that he will be able to make it a ‘Big Four’ again.

Tennis fans will continue to cheer the big three to the rafters, and most will mourn Federer’s eventual retirement, but this year’s ATP Finals showed that the sport’s future is bright and in the safe hands of a younger, talented group of players.

Main image of the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena by Jess C via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC 2.0

02 Arena awaits ATP 2018 finale

As the men’s tennis season draws to a close, there is still plenty to play for at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.

The tournament in its earlier format was originally known as the Masters Cup, and first played in Tokyo in December 1970. Since then, it has become the most prestigious event in the men’s game outside of the four grand slams – a season-ending finale featuring the eight top-ranked players in the world.

However, it was staged in various cities around the world until 2009, when it first came to London and was renamed the ATP World Tour Finals. The name and location has stayed the same ever since.

The Finals, which run from November 11-18, also feature a doubles competition, but the main focus is on the singles event.

If the winner remains undefeated, they will take home a cool $2.7m. If they lose one of their three round-robin group matches but go on to lift the trophy, they still pocket $1.2m.

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov won the title in 2017, but does not feature in this year’s field. So, who are the contenders? 

Group Guga Kurten

Novak Djokovic

‘The Serbinator’ is the man  who currently holds the No.1 spot in the world rankings. He returned to the top after Rafael Nadal pulled out of last week’s Paris Masters (and subsequently the World Tour Finals) and is favourite to triumph at the O2.

However, Djokovic  heads into the tournament on the back of a defeat in the Paris final against Karen Khachanov of Russia. Although he lost in France, earlier this year he became the first player to win all nine Masters Series titles.

The 31-year-old has also claimed two grand slam titles this year, beating Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open. Can add to his five ATP World Tour Finals victories?

Alexander Zverev

The 21-year-old, widely seen as a future grand slam winner, is the youngest player in this year’s Finals.

Ranked fifth in the world, he has achieved an impressive win/loss record of 46-16 for the season, including titles in Washington, Madrid and Munich

This will be the German’s first ATP Finals – but can he shine on the biggest stage of all outside of the four slam events?

John Isner

Rafael Nadal’s late withdrawal gives  an opportunity for the big-serving American to experience his first-ever World Tour Finals.

Isner holds the record for the third-fastest serve in the men’s game – 253 km/h (157.2 mph) – behind second-placed Alberto Olivetti of France and Sam Groth from Australia.

Aged 33, he claimed his first ATP Masters title in Miami in June where he defeated Zverev in the final in three sets. There is no doubt that his serve poses a huge threat.

Marin Čilić

The 30-year-old is often considered a dark horse, but has arguably not achieved as much as he should have since winning his first grand slam in 2014.

That year saw him defeat Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the US Open final, as well as winning three other tour titles.

The seventh seed has only won five ATP tournaments in the past four years, the latest being the Ageon Championships in June at London’s Queen’s Club.  Can he sign off 2018 in style at the O2?

Leyton Hewett Group

Roger Federer

At the age of 37, it’s hard to credit that the Swiss superstar is still playing at the very highest level of the game. Federer will be aiming for a seventh ATP World Tour title at his 16th World Tour Finals, but his most recent came back in 2011.

The former world number one is currently ranked in third place behind Djokovic and Nadal. Will he be able to deliver a strong finish to 2018 by making it 100 career titles, including his 19 majors?

Kevin Anderson

The big-serving South African is an outsider at the O2 next week but shouldn’t be discounted. After a fine 2018 season, he is currently ranked in sixth place.

Anderson achieved his best finish in a grand slam when he became only the second South African male player to reached the final at Wimbledon, where he was beaten by Djokovic in three straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.

This will be the 32-year old’s first ATP World Tour Finals, and he will surely want to make the most of his belated debut at the O2 Arena.  

Dominic Thiem

The Austrian was the last player to clinch a spot in this season’s ATP Finals. The eight seed reached the final four of the Paris Masters, where he was beaten by eventual winner Khachanov.

Thiem, 25, has won three titles this year, in St Petersburg, Buenos Aires and Lyon. However, all of them came in first half of the season, and in his three appearances in the Tour Finals to date,  he has yet to progress beyond the round-robin stage.

Kei Nishikori

The final contender in this season’s finals claimed his spot following Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal due to a knee injury.

The current world No.9 has featured in three previous World Tour Finals, his best results coming when he reached the semi-finals on his debut in 2014 and again in 2016.

The US-based Japanese player, 28, returned to the tour in January after a five-month break due to a wrist injury.

Nishikori has captured 11 ATP career titles, his last coming in 2016 at the Memphis Open.  The World Tour Finals will be a tougher nut to crack…

Doubles event

There will be some British interest in this year’s Finals as Jamie Murray will be competing alongside Bruno Soares for the doubles title. The duo are currently fourth in the double’s rankings.

The British-Brazilian partnership have managed to qualify for semi-finals in the past two years at the O2 and will hoping to go one step further.

Elsewhere in the doubles field, the Bryan brothers are not competing together as Bob is still recovering from hip surgery, which took place in early August.

That means sibling Mike will play alongside a different doubles partner for the 12th time in his career, lining up in London with fellow American Jack Sock.

The draw – how it works

The top-seeded players/team is placed in Group A and the second-seeded player/team is placed in Group B. Players/teams seeded 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, are then drawn in pairs with the first drawn placed in Group A. Each player/team plays the three other players/teams in his group

The winner of each group is placed in separate semi-final brackets, with the top player/team in Group A playing the runner-up in Group B, and vice versa.

If two or more players/teams are tied after the round-robin matches, the outcome is decided by: 1) highest percentage of sets won; then 2) highest percentage of games won. If that still fails to separate them, their positions in the world rankings will come into play.

Jack Sock

Jack Sock – ‘I shouldn’t have been here in the first place’

Few expected Jack Sock to perform as he did at the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2, where the top eight ranked players in the world contest the season finale.

Despite being the lowest-ranked player there, the American reached the semi-finals and lit up a tournament that was missing some of tennis’ biggest names.

The men’s game has enjoyed a golden era over the last decade, with four players – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – peaking together and distancing themselves from the rest of the field.

There has only been one Grand Slam final since the 2005 Australian Open where none of this aforementioned quartet were involved. That was at the 2014 US Open, where Marin Cilic overcome Kei Nishikori.

But change is imminent. All four are 30 or over, Federer is nearer to 40 while the rest seem otherwise distracted by injury or personal issues.

High-class tennis players are emerging, such as the 20 year-old German Alexander Zverev, who is currently ranked No.3, but there will be four very big holes to fill once that elite group step off the circuit.

Those gaps appeared at the ATP Finals. Only Nadal and Federer participated, with the Swiss disappointed by his semi-final exit while the Spaniard’s knee could only last one match before forcing him to withdraw.

Late addition

But a personality did emerge. Sock only qualified at the last opportunity, his Paris Masters title coming days before the start of the tournament, and subsequently lifting him to No. 8 in the rankings.

 

“I shouldn’t have been here in the first place”, confessed the 25 year-old Nebraskan. Only a tournament victory in France would have been enough for Sock – who ended October ranked 24th – and defeating Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic in the final meant he took the final spot at The O2 at the expense of Spain’s Pablo Correno Busta.

And once in London, Sock captured the hearts of the crowd with his free-wheeling and sometimes thrilling tennis.

The final match of the Boris Becker group between Sock and Zverev was effectively a quarter-final, with the winner finishing second in the group and qualifying for the semis.

The German had the momentum heading into the deciding set, but Sock’s combination of power and delicate touches proved too much for the youngster.

Delightful drop shots were immediately followed by smash returns off Zverev’s serve. Sock’s 6-4 1-6 6-4 victory was well earned despite suggestions that Zverev choked.

Playing for fun

Tennis is a very calculated game, but Sock’s informal attitude seemed to be his trump card.

“I talked to my coach [Jay Berger] and we said, screw it, take the pressure off yourself, go have fun on court again.”

And fun was had. During his opening match – a 6-4 7-6 defeat to Federer, the American scooped up a ball for the world No.2 to easily volley for the point.

It was here that Sock turned round and ‘presented’ his behind as a target for the Swiss.

Decency

But while he may have a care-free attitude and is often seen sporting merchandise of his beloved Kansas City Chiefs or ploughing down the fairway on the golf course, Sock is far from the stereotypical jock we may imagine him to be.’

‘He can’t even legally drink a beer in the US’ – Sock on Zverev

Always respectful of opponents, Sock’s sensitivity was displayed during the press conference following his victory over Zverev. When asked whether he thought the German had choked, Sock was embarrassed, smiling awkwardly as Zverev was still fulfilling media commitments at the back of the room.

Not wanting to disrespect his opponent, the Nebraskan answered other questions before diplomatically responding once the young German had left the room and shut the door behind him.

“It’s tough. The guy is 20 years old. He’s played some absolutely outstanding tennis in his career. I mean, he can’t even legally drink a beer in the US and he’s three in the world”

Aside from his obvious ability as a tennis player, Sock showed his decency as a man.

The run ends

Inevitably, the American’s run had to end, losing 6-4 0-6 3-6 at the semi-final stage to the eventual champion, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.

“When you play a guy [Dimtrov] of that calibre you can’t give him that many opportunities. He took advantage today… really stepped up his level and came up with some pretty crazy shots in the third set.”

“I nuked a return to his feet but he had an unreal pick-up. There’s a reason he has been playing consistently all year, that’s why he’s in the final.”

What next?

Next year could be the one when male American tennis finds its rhythm once again. Not since Andy Roddick, Sock’s fellow Nebraskan, has a player from the US made such an impact on the men’s game.

With the big four loosening their grip on their global dominance, breaking into the top 10 is only the start, with high ranking places and tour titles within reach.

But for Sock that is all the other side of a well-deserved break.

“I don’t want to talk about next year, I just want to go play golf.”

Ed Krarup worked in media liaison during the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2.

Feature image courtesy of Carine06 via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)