Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon reviews the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.
Long delayed, the arrival of men’s tennis’s young new prince is finally official.
Alexander Zverev, heralded as the future of the ATP World Tour for a handful of years already, has captured the biggest title of his young career at 21 years old and six months, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals by the score of 6-4 and 6-3.
Zverev captures the biggest title of his career with a straight set master-class of Novak Djokovic. He wins 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 20 minutes.
10 aces, four breaks of serve and 79 percent of his first serve points won. #atpfinals
— Tennis Connected (@TennisConnected) November 18, 2018
And unlike in their matchup in round robin play, which Djokovic had won in straight sets in dropping only five (!!!) games, this time it was Zverev who was the aggressor and who left little doubt as to who was the better player. A little like Simba in the Lion King, Zverev was finally king if only for a day.
Mind you, he was playing against a man who had recaptured his crown, who had won 35 of his recent 37 matches dating back to Wimbledon and no fewer than his 14 recent matches against members of the Top 10. All of which is to say that Djokovic entered the Sunday final as the most daunting foe one could have faced, even one as talented and gifted as Zverev—and Zverev hit him directly off the court.
The loss will sting for Djokovic, who had a chance to equal Roger Federer with six career ATP Finals titles. Still, he would do great not to get too down on himself and instead remember that he managed to get back to No. 1 when it seemed just about impossible only six months ago, and that he reintroduced himself to the world and atop the food chain when he had been inconsequential to the center of the ATP universe for about 12 to 18 months.
In the end, the Serb looks poised to keep his reign going in 2019, perhaps as early as the Australian Open. Perhaps he stumbled a bit to close out this season and couldn’t quite nail the fairytale ending, but we’ll say that this is the wrong way to look at it. In losing against Zverev in London, and Karen Khachanov the week before at the Paris Masters 1000 final, Djokovic gave us a glimpse at the future of men’s tennis.
It’s a future with much more unknown, where the shots are just as heavy, the action just as thrilling but where the outcome is just a little bit more in flux as it’s been in this golden era.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Surprising finish to the 2018 individual season with Khachanov, 22, defeating Djokovic to win Paris and Zverev, 21, defeating Djokovic to win the ATP Finals in London. What can the next generation do in the Slams in 2019?
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) November 18, 2018
As a result of this win, Zverev will finish the year at No. 4 for the second year in a row after winning a tour-leading 58 wins in 2018. “I’d like to thank my Dad, who has coached me all my life,” the German said. “He won’t stop crying until next year, probably. Thanks Ivan [Lendl] for joining the team. I think it’s working out for now!”
If he sounds so positive, there could be a reason. We’re on the record already as being a bit skeptical of the German’s long-term chances, but at least for a week he’s made us look foolish. Because it does appear like Zverev will carry with him a ton more momentum entering the 2019 season even if he’s still ranked just as high or low as he was a year ago, wouldn’t you say? Everything’s the same, and yet it’s also all different.
Nex the German will only need to do it all again in 2019 at the Grand Slam tournaments, with the catch that Rafael Nadal also will likely stand in his way, alongside Djokovic and Federer.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG