There’s Something About Turin That Brings Out The Best In Zverev

Alexander Zverev (photo: Giampiero Sposito/FITP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 13, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

After missing last year’s event due to injury, World No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz made his long-awaited debut at the Nitto ATP Finals on Monday afternoon in Turin, where he took on two-time champion Alexander Zvevev in the opening Red Group match. It turned out to be a learning experience for Alcaraz. As he found out, there’s something about playing in Turin that brings out the best in Zverev’s tennis.

By the end of their two-hour, 31-minute tussle, a composed and determined Zverev had rallied from a set down to win. He reset during the last two stanzas by relying on his pin-point accurate and potent service attack to garner a satisfying 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4 victory in the opening match of Red Group play.

Zverev, making his sixth Nitto ATP Finals appearance, finished with 16 aces and 37 overall winners. He won 79 percent of his first-serve points, saved five of six break points, converted three of eight break-point chances and outpointed Alcaraz 100-89. Zverev improved to 5-1 in opening round-robin matches and his win over Alcaraz improved his season-long win-loss record to 54-26.

On Wednesday, Zverev (1-0) will play the winner of Monday evening’s other Red Group match between No. 3 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Andrey Rublev. Alcaraz (0-1) will return to face the Medvedev-Rublev loser.

“My serve helped me a lot. Saving the break point in the first game of the second set helped me,” Zverev said in his on-court interview afterward. “You don’t want to go down a set and a break against the World No. 2, so I am happy.”

Alcaraz and Zverev arrived on the fast indoor court at the Pala Alpitour tied 3-3 in their head-to-head clashes, with the World No. 7 from Germany holding a 2-1 advantage on hard courts, thanks to his powerful serve. Earlier, Alcaraz won both meetings this season, first at the Mutua Madrid Masters in the fourth round and later at the US Open in the quarterfinals – both times without losing a set.

However, while the 20-year-old Spaniard has enjoyed a remarkable season that has included winning six titles, highlighted by his first Wimbledon crown, he’s not won a title in his past six events since Wimbledon – a cause for concern among many.

Meanwhile, Zverev, a two-time Nitto ATP Finals champion (in 2018 and 2021), was missing in action at last year’s event due to a severe ankle injury he sustained at the French Open. However, he’s bounced back nicely this season by winning two titles – at home in Hamburg and at Chengulf – while rising back into the Top 10.

“[You have] to be at your best,” the 26-year-old Zverev said Friday in an interview with ATP Media on the eve of the tournament. “The times that I have beaten him, I was playing my absolute best tennis. If you are not quite there, if you are a little slow-ish, if you are not hitting the ball as well as you can, you don’t have any chance.”

Zverev grew stronger as the match wore on and he continued to pressure Alcaraz, especially during his service games. By the end, after Alcaraz weakly netted a forehand return for his 15th unforced error, it was Zverev who was smiling and celebrating his 13th career win at the year-end championship. Once again, Turin had brought out the best tennis in Zverev.

In his post-match press conference, Alcaraz described just how tough it was facing a determined Zverev. “It was a really difficult one. I think it was a close match, but I couldn’t take the chances that I had,” he said. “This guy has one of the biggest serve on the tour.

“I had a few break points that I couldn’t take, and I think that was the key of the match.”

As Zverev explained in a post-match interview with Tennis Channel, “Anybody can win. You only have the eight best players. You don’t have time to get into the tournament as much as you do in other tournaments because of who you’re playing. In general, obviously, I’m happy with the win. I’m happy to beat someone like Alcaraz.”

Djokovic receives ATP Tour Year-End No. 1 trophy

During an afternoon ceremony prior to the start of the Carlos Alcaraz-Alexander Zverev match, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic received the ATP Tour Year-End No. 1 trophy from ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi. On Sunday night, Djokovic defeated Homer Rune to clinch the Year-End No. 1 award.

“Obviously it’s the crown of the season, finishing the year as No. 1 in the world,” said Djokovic, who has won the award a record eight times. “I think it’s a dream of every tennis player. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in our sport. Obviously winning Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world are probably the pinnacles of the sport.”

In his on-court remarks, Djokovic continued: “It’s been a very long year for all the players and to be able to stand here is a blessing and I want to thank my team, who is here, my coaching staff, everybody, physiotherapist, fitness coach, Goran, Claudio, Marko, Miljan, Mark, Charlie, Carlos, everyone who has been on this road with me. It’s a team effort even though I’m standing by myself here on the court. But I can’t wait to be celebrating with them. This is a tremendous success and achievement and I’m very proud of it.”

Around the Pala Alpitour

Second seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain won their opening Red Group match of the Nitto ATP Finals over Australians Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 18 minutes, on Monday afternoon.

After reaching the semifinals in Turin last year, the Dutch/British duo are looking for one last hurrah before they split their partnership at the end of 2023. In chasing after their third title of the season to go with earlier successes at Wimbledon and in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Koolhof and Skupski won 87 percent of their first-serve points and converted three of nine break points against the reigning Australian Open champions. It was the third win in four meetings for Koolhof and Skupski against Hijikata and Kubler.

Koolhof is a past Nitto ATP Finals doubles champion, having won the 2020 title with Croatia’s Nikola Mektic. Skupski is making his second appearance in Turin.

By the numbers

All four singles players in action Monday – No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, No. 5 Andrey Rublev and No. 7 Alexander Zverev – has won at least 50 matches and won at least two titles this season on the ATP Tour. Medvedev leads with 64 wins followed by Alcaraz with 63.

“Quotable …”

“It’s huge. It means a lot obviously. I knew coming into the tournament here I needed only one win to clinch the year-end No. 1. I really wanted that to happen already tonight. I didn’t want to prolong in a way the situation and complicate in a way this particular goal. I’m really glad that I managed to do that tonight.

“It always has been a huge objective and huge goal of mine to be No. 1 in the world. Other than Grand Slams, that’s what counts the most. To finish off the year as No. 1 in the world at this stage of my life and career is something really amazing.

“At the beginning of the year, I really wasn’t prioritizing that, I must say. I was prioritizing more Grand Slams. Because of the great results, particularly in Grand Slams, accumulated points, I think I put myself in a very good position to fight for year-end No. 1. Winning Paris put me in a great position. So I really went for it.

“Anything that happens from this moment onwards I guess in this tournament is a bonus for me.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia, during his post-match press conference Sunday night, after securing Year-End No. 1 with his victory over Holger Rune.