Paris Masters 2020: Zverev dashes Nadal’s title hopes; sets Medvedev final

Schwartzman confirmed for ATP Finals; Djokovic confirms year-end No1

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Down to the last four, and one of the key questions of the week at the Rolex Paris Masters had been answered—and by the actions of the top seed, Rafael Nadal.

He it was who ended the chances of Pablo Carreno Busta reaching the ATP Finals in London after beating him from a set down.

That victory by Nadal, the 1002nd in his long and distinguished career, propelled Diego Schwartzman into the last London spot, despite the Argentine losing to Daniil Medvedev for the loss of just four games.

Meanwhile, the first man to qualify for this year’s ATP Finals, world No1 Novak Djokovic, was confirmed as the year-end No1, thus equalling the record of Pete Sampras—becoming the oldest year-end No1 into the bargain.

Djokovic, who overtook Sampras’ tally of 286 weeks at No1 six weeks ago, is on course to take Roger Federer’s record of 310 weeks at the top come March—and looking at his form in this limited coronavirus season, it is hard to see him giving up the No1 any time soon.

Even without contesting the Paris Masters this week, Djokovic has gone 39-3 and won five titles—among them the team-based ATP Cup, the Australian Open, and two Masters in ‘Cincinnati’ and Rome, plus runner-up at the French Open. His final target for 2020 will be another record attempt: to match Federer’s six ATP Finals titles at the O2.

By late afternoon on semi-final Saturday, Medvedev—already guaranteed for London—sent Milos Raonic packing, and reached his first Masters final since winning back to back Masters more than a year ago.

Now Nadal would continue his attempt at making his own small piece of history, his first Paris Masters—and with it draw level with Djokovic’s record 36 Masters titles.

And seldom has he come into this part of the season, and onto the hard indoor courts, with more energy in the tank. He paced himself carefully in this shortened season, bypassed the US Open swing, and took a break after his record-making 13th Roland Garros victory. For his eye was surely not only on the Paris double but also on the biggest title missing from his resume, the ATP Finals. And it so happened that his only defeat to his semi-final opponent, Alexander Zverev, in six previous meetings was at last year’s London finale.

Zverev won the toss and opted to receive, perhaps hoping to catch Nadal off guard and cold. It did not work in the first game, but the young German swept through the Spaniard in the third for a love break, striking a couple of clean cross-court backhand winners.

For all the stresses in his life at the moment—discovering he is to become a father with his most recent girlfriend, and then facing allegations of domestic violence in an earlier relationship—Zverev could not have looked more cool, calm and collected. Here, in the heat of competition, he was clearly focused on one thing. And he was laser-like in his attack from the baseline, throwing in a drop winner and a couple of net finishes.

With just three points dropped on serve against one of the best defenders in tennis, he went 4-2, but Nadal began to turn up the heat in the next game, holding with a signature backhand winner down the line.

With 34 minutes on the clock, the German stepped up to serve for the set, and finished it off with a drop-shot, his 19th winner of the set.

Nadal opened serving in the second set, too, but come the third game, once again Zverev struck, pummeling the Spaniard’s backhand, keeping the ball low on the slow Paris court, and drawing uncharacteristic errors, first from the baseline, then on break point at the net. Zverev led, 2-1, and with some huge shots to both wings, and a couple of comfortable overheads, he held with ease, 3-1.

A confident smash winner earned Zverev another break chance, but Nadal dug in. Then the Spaniard found some rhythm to capitalize on a string of second serves from Zverev. He worked his first break chances, but Zverev was up to the test, in a brutal 25-shot rally, again finished at the net. The German held, 4-2, and pulled off a cracking backhand pass on the run to bring up three more break points.

Nadal now found his best tennis to resist, only to see another forehand shoot past for a fourth chance, yet the top seed survived more than seven minutes to hold—a classic Nadal moment, back against the wall, finding just a little more.

In such circumstances, many would put their house on Nadal capitalizing on his pivotal hold, and sure enough, Zverev wavered, produced his first double fault, and the Spaniard took advantage. Nadal broke, then held to love, 5-4, but he did not make the surge to the set’s conclusion that he hoped.

Zverev picked up a break point with a lucky net-cord winner, Nadal was called for a time violation, and then hammered a backhand wide. The German broke, 6-5, and finished as he had started, serving it out, 7-5.

He had made 37 winners for only 18 errors, and like Medvedev, was now into his first Masters final in over a year.

His coach David Ferrer, who has been courtside all week, won his only Masters title at this very tournament in 2012, and the hard-working, modest and much admired Ferrer should surely take a lot of credit for his charge’s improved tennis since the end of lockdown in late August. Zverev reached his first Major final at the US Open, then won back-to-back titles in Cologne. And based on his 5-1 record against Medvedev, he could soon be emulating Ferrer in Paris.

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