ATP Finals 2021: Zverev downs Hurkacz to confirm semi-final showdown against Djokovic

Sinner denied chance of Italian glory in Turin; with one win as ‘alternate’, he needed a Hurkacz win before facing Medvedev

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev (Photo: e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Christian Hofer, for Erste Bank Open)

Jannik Sinner, who suddenly found himself in the spotlight after arriving at the Nitto ATP Finals as the first reserve, grabbed his last-gasp chance with both hands to win the first of the two matches he would play after the withdrawal of compatriot Matteo Berrettini.

The 20-year-old Sinner duly became the youngest man to win his debut match at the tournament since 2000, with victory over Hubert Hurkacz 6-2, 6-2, in a carnival-like atmosphere in front of his home crowd.

But his chances of making history in Turin would depend as much on Hurkacz and Alexander Zverev as on his own second match against Daniil Medvedev.

For while the world No2 Medvedev had already qualified for the semis at the top of the Red Group, Zverev could confirm the second place in the semis with victory over the tall Pole in the afternoon session.

Not that Zverev was guaranteed to do so. The No3 seed won gold at the Tokyo Olympics—beating Djokovic in the semis—which was one of five titles for the year that included two Masters, in Cincinnati and Madrid.

And while the only man in the draw that the 2018 ATP Finals champion had not beaten in 2021 was Hurkacz, Zverev did win their only previous match, back in 2019 in Madrid, albeit from a set down.

No7 seed Hurkacz had come on in leaps and bounds since then, from a ranking of 35 before he won the title in Delray Beach this January. He went on to win the Miami Masters via five higher seeds, including Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, then beat Medvedev on his way to his first Major semi at Wimbledon.

But while the Pole tested Medvedev all the way to a final-set tie-break in the Turin round robins, he had looked all at sea against Sinner, winning just four games.

So would Zverev deny Sinner before the Italian even took to court on Thursday night? Judging from the first game against Hurkacz, the answer was yes.

It started with a winner, a Zverev backhand down the line, and the German broke the Pole four points later for a quick lead. A hold to 15, and the German was 2-0.

It grew worse for Hurkacz: He conceded a break to love with a succession of errors, followed by a love hold from Zverev: 4-0.

At last Hurkacz got on the board, and attacked the net to pressure his opponent, and he did draw a couple of German errors. But he looked out of sorts, and struggled with his return of serve, while Zverev was missing barely a single first delivery: 16/18.

Hurkacz just got through another hold, but the German served it out, 6-2, with 12 winners for just three errors.

Hurkacz got off to a more positive start in the second set, a strong hold, but he was answered with a love hold from Zverev.

Not to be disheartened, the Polish serve was now hitting its spots, 10/10 on first-serve deliveries with just two points dropped in taking a 2-1 lead. At last in the sixth game, he began to make some points off the Zverev serve to reach deuce, but he did not challenge a serve that was well long to give the German an ace, and Zverev went on to hold.

Hurkacz had to continue to go for his shots, and then find his best serving to hold off a break point, and he did so to maintain his 4-3 advantage. He had another glimmer of a chance as Zverev’s first serve dropped off, but the German came back with four straight points to hold again.

All at once, there was an opening for Zverev, as he regained his range, and found the lines to draw a clutch of errors from the Pole. They were costly: the German broke, and would serve for the match, 5-4.

A frustrated Hurkacz thumped a forehand long, and a big Zverev serve finished the job on match-point, 6-4, having made 11 aces and no double faults, 22 winners and just eight unforced errors, and all in little more than an hour.

In his third semi-final at the tournament, Zverev will face Novak Djokovic for the fourth time at the ATP Finals. He lost to the Serb in the round-robin phase a year ago, and the two went on to meet four times this season. Djokovic won a tough four-setter in the quarters of the Australian Open, but Zverev avenged the loss to deny the world No1 at the Tokyo Olympics in the semis. Their last meeting was a five-set marathon in the semis of the US Open, won by Djokovic.

The Serb, who is targeting a sixth title at the tournament, to equal the record of Roger Federer, topped the Green Group with wins over Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev.

For Sinner, then, the dream of becoming the first ‘alternate’ and first Italian to qualify for the semi-finals in the 52-year history of the ATP Finals was dead in the water.

Even so, there was plenty of incentive to score a win against Medvedev: 200 ranking points, $173,000, and a truly memorable night with his adoring Turin fans.

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