Paris Masters 2020: Medvedev rises to Zverev challenge; wins third Masters title
Medvedev will overtake Federer to rise to No4 in the rankings
It all came down to two of the best young players to have steadily broken the old order in recent years.
World No5 Daniil Medvedev, now age 24, made huge advances and big waves last year to win four titles from nine finals, with back-to-back Masters titles—Cincinnati and Shanghai—plus runner-up credits at the Montreal Masters and the US Open, and ending with his first appearance at the ATP Finals.
World No7 Alexander Zverev made his impact at an even younger age. Still only 23, he won two Masters among five titles in 2017, then another Masters title plus the ATP Finals in London in 2018. Stir into the mix three more Masters finals, and his first Major final at the US Open this autumn, and the form that dipped significantly last year amid off-court troubles has catapulted him back into Masters contention in Paris this week.
The two 6ft6in men, both intelligent forthright personalities, had met six times before, with the first to hit the big time, Zverev, holding a 5-1 advantage. But it was in the Shanghai Masters final last year that Medvedev scored his only win, in conditions not dissimilar to those in Paris.
The difference 12 months after that final, however, is that Zverev has put together a stunning autumn, following his strong US Open with back-to-back titles in Cologne. And in Paris, he has arrived at the final with two very significant scalps: Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal, both without dropping a set.
The big question that looms over the German, even so, is whether he can continue to suppress all the distractions that have come his way since last week: the public announcement from his most recent girlfriend that he is to become a father; and the serious accusations of domestic violence voiced by a previous girlfriend.
Amid firm denials from Zverev, he has been playing some of his most consistent and focused tennis since that outstanding run at the O2 in London two years ago. Could he keep the calm veneer in place against Medvedev?
Rather like Zverev against Nadal in the semis, Medvedev won the toss and put his opponent in to serve. The younger man had struggled for months with his serve, especially his second serve, for long stretches earlier this year, but that had noticeably changed on the return of the tour following the coronavirus lockdown.
The influence, perhaps, of his new coach, former Paris Masters champion David Ferrer, who has been a quiet presence courtside all week, though maybe the much-admired Ferrer’s biggest impact has been his formidable work ethic, which has translated into more attack, better movement, improved speed in Zverev’s tennis.
Though Zverev’s serving kept him on top on serve, Medvedev would take him to deuce in the seventh game with some tactically smart exchanges, one from drop shot and backhand pass out of the tennis textbook, but the German held.
Both though were striking the ball cleanly, with real crisp power and in both directions. The sound of racket on strings reverberated around the huge empty Bercy arena, but who would blink first?
Medvedev slotted his first love hold, 4-4, but as it got to the business end of the set, it was the Russian who had to serve to save it—though neither thus far had faced a break point. But come 5-6 down, he faced 0-40 as Zverev drew him to the net and then passed him. Medvedev saved one, was lucky to get away with the second, and then thumped a forehand way long to concede the set, 7-5.
He had made more winners, 13 of them, and only eight errors, but had sometimes been chasing rather than controlling the rallies, and that was the difference—just five errors from the German, and just a little more pace on both first and second serve.
A 38-shot rally in the third game of the second set showed this was far from over, a bullet-fast exchange from the baseline, covering the full width, turning defence into attack, and finished with a forehand winner down the line from Medvedev. Another blistering forehand cross court earned the Russian deuce.
He earned another after picking an acute backhand winner, really upping the pace and variety. It would turn into eight deuces, with four break chances that Zverev snuffed out with smart and controlled rallies, coming forward to take control. He finally held, after a quarter of an hour, with a brilliant overhead finish. He roared to his box—his elder brother Mischa and coach Ferrer—and sat down at 2-1.
A swift Medvedev hold to love, in barely a minute, made it 3-3, and forced Zverev to keep serving with little respite. The German replied in kind, but again the Russian held to love, with his serve verging on perfect. And the constant pressure got its reward, a break, and Medvedev served out the set, 6-4.
And he carried the momentum into the third set, breaking to love in the first game as Zverev put a tired volley into the net. Medvedev then had to fight for more than 10 minutes in the second game, five deuces, four break points, but with his forehand superb, changing direction, using angle and flat power strategically.
He held for 2-0, and Zverev’s legs were drained by the punishing chases. It showed in the German’s serve and he was broken again, finally holding at 4-1. But he looked out of fuel, while Medvedev only got better. A double fault by Zverev on break point handed the title to the Russian, 6-1, for his third Masters title.
It bodes well for London, where he failed to win a match last year. But back then, he arrived on the back of one of the hottest runs of late 2019, comprising six straight finals, and winning Cincinnati, St Petersburg and Shanghai. This time, he hits that same blistering form with fresh mind and body. Novak Djokovic will be favourite for the London title, but do not dismiss Medvedev.