Alexander Zverev beats Roger Federer in Montreal to claim second Masters title
Alexander Zverev became just the third man to beat Roger Federer this year as the German won his fifth title of 2017 in Montreal at the Rogers Cup
Just three months after winning his first Masters title in Rome, where he beat Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev has won his second in Montreal, beating Roger Federer.
Such is the quality of the 20-year-old German that, as well as these claiming these significant scalps, he very nearly put out Rafael Nadal in a gripping five-setter at the Australian Open, beat No3 Stan Wawrinka in Miami, No7 Marin Cilic in Madrid, No6 Milos Raonic in Rome, No9 Kei Nishikori in Washington, and now the mighty Swiss, whose own outstanding form this year saw him chasing the No1 ranking as he races towards the US Open at the end of the month.
The Rogers Cup victory made Zverev the first player outside the ‘big four’ of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray to win multiple Masters titles in a season since David Nalbandian in 2007, and he is only the second active player aside from the same four and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to own more than one Masters crown.
Zverev, who rose from a ranking of 83 at the start of last year, to 24 at the start of this season, and now to a new career-high No7 this week, is also now No3 in the Race to London, the ATP World Tour Finals—behind only Nadal and Federer.
But the impressive 6ft 6ins German also became the first player to qualify for the inaugural #NextGen ATP Finals, which will be played in Milan in the week before London’s O2 finale. He leads his fellow under-22s by a country mile, with 4,165 points compared with the 890 of second-placed Karen Khachanov.
Zverev reached his first two finals last year, on the clay of Nice and grass of Halle, before picking up his first title indoors in St Petersburg. Then this February, he won the indoor Montpellier title, went on to claim two clay-court crowns—Munich and Rome—before falling to Federer in the Halle final.
After Wimbledon, he claimed his first ATP 500 in Washington, and victory in Montreal makes him and Federer the only players to claim five titles this year.
What had looked like a tough draw for Zverev at the start of the week proved to be a fine testing-ground for the German’s big hitting, aggressive brand of tennis—and of his focus and determination.
He was pushed to the limit in his opener against Richard Gasquet, just as he had been against the Frenchman on the home turf of Halle. Indeed, he would have to save three match-points, one of them a stunning 49-shot rally, to advance. His first seed was Nick Kyrgios, who had beaten Zverev in both their previous meetings, both in hard-court Masters this year. This time, the German sailed through, 6-4, 6-3, while the Australian once again battled physical problems.
Then came the unseeded Kevin Anderson, rising fast in his comeback this year from injury and taking out his own formidable opponents to face Zverev for the second time in a matter of days: Anderson was the losing finalist in Washington. This result would be the same.
Perhaps the most intriguing showdown was against the exciting Canadian teenager, Denis Shapovalov, who had thrilled his home crowd to reach a first Masters semi via wins over two Grand Slam champion, Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal.
With three tough three-setters in his legs already, Zverev proved to be one step too far for Shapovalov, though a 6-4, 7-5 scoreline showed this could be a new rivalry for the future. It also ensured the 18-year-old rocketed into contention for Milan, up seven places to No4, and rose 76 places in the ATP rankings to 67. He began the year at 250.
Against Federer, who he beat in Halle in 2016, Zverev dominated from the word go, hitting 20 winners during the swift 68-minute contest. He worked a break chance in the second game, broke in the fourth, and held to lead 4-1. Federer produced a rare love hold in the eighth, but the German served big to serve out the set, 6-3.
Federer rarely looked comfortable, and had faced an uphill task in his third-round match against David Ferrer after going a set down. The Swiss did put some pressure on Zverev at the start of the second set, working three break-point chances, but resorted to some unusual tactics to return the German’s serve—standing metres behind the baseline. And again, Zverev came up with some fine serves to hold for 1-1.
Federer survived two break chances in the third game, but his serve was missing the mark far too often: He got only half of his first deliveries into play through the match. And as the second set progressed, the Swiss was clearly struggling to return, too, apparently inhibited in his movement by a back problem. Sure enough, the highly-focused Zverev broke for 4-3, held to love, and served for the title, 6-4.
The young champion said:
“Winning two Masters titles in the same year is something amazing. I played well winning Washington and here. I feel great. I feel like I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life.
“But Cincinnati is a very tough draw. I don’t know if I will be able to go far there because I am a little bit tired. But game-wise and confidence-wise, I’m super happy the way everything is standing.”
The tour heads directly to Cincinnati in this tough month of hard-court tennis, and Zverev and Federer are this time drawn in the same half, where each has some formidable big players to negotiate in the early rounds.
However there remains a question-mark over Federer’s participation in a tournament he has won seven times—a 42-8 record. He afterwards confirmed to the Swiss broadcaster SRF that he had indeed tweaked his back.
He said he felt something happen in the middle of the second set [it appeared to happen during the fourth game], and that his back had not felt the same since. He added that he was unsure whether there would be enough time to recover for Cincinnati, and would discuss it with his team when he arrived there. He went on:
“But the US Open is on the horizon, and that is important.”
However, Federer was keen in his subsequent press conference to give credit to his young opponent:
“Playing the final was a good thing. Of course, I’m disappointed with today. I thought I would do better. I wanted to fight a bit more and make the match a bit tighter. But Zverev played extremely well. He played well all week…
“I practised a ton with him. We know each other well. I’m just really happy for him, to see that he’s taking everything not just to the next level, but the two next levels, winning two Masters 1000s. It’s a wonderful achievement for him.”
This was Federer’s first defeat in a final this year and his first loss to a top-10 player, but it put his wait for a title in Montreal on hold yet again. He has won the eponymous Rogers Cup in Canada only twice, on both occasions in Toronto.
By the time it is played in Montreal again, he will be celebrating his 38th birthday—so perhaps this particular city will remain the one that got away.