Qualifying among the elite eight for the season finale at London’s O2 for the second consecutive year, the charismatic German became the fifth to assure his place along with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.
It makes Zverev the first German since Boris Becker to make the finale in successive years, and last year, Zverev became the youngest player to seal a place since 20-year-old del Potro in 2008.
He said of his achievement:
“It’s great to finally officially make it and again be a part of the best eight, which is an elite group. It is a goal for everyone at the beginning of the season…
“It’s probably one of the most prestigious events that we have, because to get there, you have to be one of the best eight players in the world… Just being a part of it, just playing there is already an honour itself. It’s close to, or it’s maybe equal to winning a Grand Slam, and I think other players will tell you the same thing, because just to be there, you obviously play well throughout the whole year.”
With a 49-15 match record this year, Zverev has compiled the most tour-level victories in 2018, breaking a tie with Dominic Thiem (48). He picked up his third Masters crown at the Mutua Madrid Open—where he beat Thiem—to become the first player to win a clay-court title without being broken since the ATP began to keep stats in 1991. He also successfully retained titles both in Munich and Washington, and finished runner-up in two further Masters finals, in Miami and Rome.
Next in line for London are No6 in the Race, Marin Cilic, followed by Kevin Anderson and then Thiem, though all are now out of Shanghai.
Anderson was the latest to lose there, though he is still favoured to reach the ATP Finals for the first time. However, Djokovic proved too big a task for the tall South African, as he has for almost everyone since reaching the semi-finals at the Rome Masters.
With his win over Anderson, 7-6(1), 6-3, the Serb set just the latest in a season of remarkable stats. He went to a 68-9 record in China via 10 titles, his first coming at the Masters Cup in the same Qi Zhong arena in 2008, and then through a sequence of Shanghai and Beijing titles—and that has resulted in more titles than matches lost.
And since Djokovic turned on the form with the clay season this year, he has won 37 out of 40 matches, including titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and Cincinnati, where he became the first player to complete the Career Golden Masters.
Now, he can move to No2 with a win in his semi-final against Zverev, and will edge closer to the year-end No1 ranking.
Shanghai’s defending champion Federer is also still in contention for the title in China and for the year-end No1. After battling through three-setters against two tough opening opponents, the Swiss faced another in-form man also making a case for London, Kei Nishikori. Both players had to produce some lively, aggressive and high-quality tennis in a match that the Swiss seemed to have stitched up with a set and a break lead.
Nishikori went on the attack to level in the second, and led 4-1 in the tie-break before Federer, playing his best match of the week, went on a run of six points to score his 39th win of the year and set a semi showdown with Borna Coric.
It is an intriguing match-up for the Swiss against a player 16 years his junior: a replay of their Indian Wells semi, which Federer won in three sets, and then the Halle final, which went to Coric, also in three. And if the young Croat wins again, he will also keep alive his own chance of reaching London.
Three places remain in the year-end finale.
1. Rafael Nadal, 7,480, Q
2. Novak Djokovic, 6,455, Q
3. Juan Martin del Potro, 5,220, Q
4. Roger Federer, 4,810, Q
5. Alexander Zverev, 4,420 Q
6. Marin Cilic, 3,825 [scheduled to play Basel, Paris Masters]
7. Kevin Anderson, 3,720 [scheduled to play Vienna, Paris Masters]
8. Dominic Thiem, 3,535 [scheduled to play Vienna, Paris Masters]
9. Kei Nishikori, 3,000 [scheduled to play Vienna, Paris Masters]
10. John Isner, 2,930 [scheduled to play Stockholm, Vienna, Paris Masters]
11. Fabio Fognini, 2,135 [scheduled to play Stockholm, Vienna, Paris Masters]
12. Borna Coric, 2,060 [SF Shanghai, plus scheduled to play Vienna, Paris Masters]
13. Kyle Edmund, 1,945 [scheduled to play Antwerp, Vienna, Paris Masters]
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