08:44 PM GMT November 14, 2017
Big forehands make for great highlights and aces for quick games, but variety might be the key to success on the ATP World Tour, and Roger Federer showed plenty of it on Tuesday night during his 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-1 win against Alexander Zverev at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Federer moved the 6'6” Zverev around the court with drop shots and slices. But the six-time champion was also happy to flatten out his groundstrokes against the 20-year-old right-hander, who had beaten Federer during their only prior hard-court matchup.
“I think I was able to stay the course and use my slice quite effectively, then try with variation to go into his forehand,” Federer said.
Now, after a 2-0 start in London, the 36-year-old Federer is into the semi-finals for the 14th time in his 15th appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals.
“I'm extremely happy... It's been a tough group so to be there in two matches is great,” Federer said. “But today was difficult. Still early days in the tournament. It was nice to be able to show maybe that quality of mine, that I can dig out these matches, these points time and time again, stay mentally tough. In the third I started to play better. It was a tough match from the beginning till the end.”
His win clears up the Group Boris Becker qualification scenarios. Marin Cilic, who lost to Jack Sock on Tuesday to fall to 0-2, is eliminated.
The winner of Thursday's Sock vs. Zverev matchup will join Federer in the semi-finals. Sock and Zverev are tied 1-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry.
“I think it was a very positive match,” Zverev said. “I still have great chances of qualifying, playing Jack Sock next. I think if I continue having this level, I don't know, maybe you'll see me in the weekend still.”
Federer has now won 12 consecutive matches, dating back to his title runs at the Shanghai Rolex Masters (d. Nadal) and the Swiss Indoors Basel (d. del Potro). That streak features seven indoor victories, including his Nitto ATP Finals opener against Sock.
But Tuesday's must-see generational showdown was a toss-up at the start. Federer and Zverev had split their four FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, and Zverev had beaten Federer on the hard courts of Montreal during the Coupe Rogers final. The German became the only player to beat him in a final this season and only the fourth player to beat him at all this year.
The third-seeded Zverev, who's making his Nitto ATP Finals debut this week, started strong as well. He had three break points in Federer's opening service game, but Federer saved all three, reeling off five consecutive points. The Swiss would save 9/11 break points for the match.
“I think I was able to read his forehand this time better than Montreal, where he had a lot of winners, forehand and backhand,” Federer said.
They blitzed through the opener from there, with six games held to love or 15, until Zverev had to erase two set points at 5-6. In the tie-break, Federer won eight of the final 10 points to take the first set.
Zverev didn't fade, though. He broke Federer for the second time at 5-6 in the second set and evened the match. But the Swiss right-hander outplayed Zverev in the decider, breaking three times and saving the only break point he faced.
“I think he played a very good game to break me. Then I lost a little bit concentration after that,” Zverev said.