Roger Federer  def. Alexander Zverev  7-6(6) 5-7 6-1
Having schooled Jack Sock (albeit with a few little wobbles along the way), Roger Federer handed down another lesson when he took on World No. 3 Alexander Zverevin the second round of the group stages, at the Nitto ATP World Finals.
That Zverev had come through a a tough encounter against Marin Cilic had been impressive, especially with the big-serving Croat a break up in the decider. The German certainly started with intent, holding three break points and almost making a mockery of Federer’s earlier practice with second alternate Sam Querrey.
In fact Federer had followed Zverev onto Centre Court for a quick hit and the young German sat and watched a little of that practice, and he certainly had the measure of Federer’s timing.
But it did not take long before normal service was resumed, with Federer pegging the German back to hold, and even threatening to break him in the next game, as they stayed toe-to-toe, with Zverev ultimately denying Federer two set points before the tie-break.
The German leapt out to a 4-0 lead, again to be agonisingly pegged back. He came within a set point himself, but the errors that had plagued him in the first round came back to haunt him once more, with Federer capitalising on the German’s 20th unforced error to wrap up the first set.
A spirited and early break from Zverev showed he had not dropped his head, although he would lose that advantage in the next passage of play. Zverev had a chance once more to take the lead, passing that up, as Federer looked to be a little more irritated that he had not taken the momentum when he had the chance.
A weak service game by Federer meant that Zverev could capitalise on his second chance to snare the set – take us into the decider, as Federer hooked a forward wide.
First blood in the decider went Federer’s way. One break had not been enough for him in the first set, and a double-break cushion with another error from Zverev put the Swiss firmly in the driving seat to top the group. The match fell away pretty rapidly for the German, losing his tree next service games in a row.
Annabel Croft, doing the interview asked him what it had been like to challenge the top players when he was Zverev’s age:
“It was so long ago I hardly remember,” he joked. “I don’t think I qualified until I was 21 in Shanghai. It was a dream for me to be part of it, where the best players take part and you can slog it out against them, knowing you’re only going to get better. I’m excited for Alex’s future. He’s a wonderful guy and a great, great player.
“I’n happy and relieved that I can play freely against Cilic, instead of it being a nail-biter. It’s been a tough group so to be through in two matches is great.”
With everything to play for to keep their hopes of qualification alive at most, saving a little face at the very least, Marin Cilic and Jack Sockfaced off in the first of the Round Two Group Stage matches.
For Sock, it was a chance to maybe settle the nerves he experienced in his opener against Federer. In truth he had not played that badly – he had the right idea, to draw Federer into the net, to move around the court and to show how adept he can be at the net, but at times his range and execution were just a little off – and against a player like Federer who could blame him.
Whereas Cilic’s opener was a rum affair. It looked as though he would he could pull off a decent comeback, coming from a set down against Zverev and looking very much more in control of his nerves. After all this was not his first time around the clock here – but he has a shocking record, having one just one out of seven matches in his three appearances at the season-ending finale.
One could argue that Cilic needed this more – while it has not been a bad year – he won Queen’s and reached the Wimbledon final but the leg injury he sustained in the summer cost him the chance to defend his Cincinnati Masters title and he was undercooked going in to the US Open.
Since then though he has turned around his fortunes and is looking to finish the year well, but for the turnaround by Zverev which denied him the ‘W’.
The pair traded breaks at the start, before a competitive bout before a lucky net-cord maybe saved Cilic’s blushes as he went on to serve for and take the first set. However he lost that momentum just as quickly, with Sock dominating the second set to level things up.
With a little cat-and-mouse break here, break there in the decider, they galloped through the games to a tie-break. Cilic really started to come into his own – for someone that can look so awkward, his speed up to the net and deft finishes put him in a decent lead, forcing Sock to take more risks up at the net. The American duly complied, getting the crowd involved in the bargain.
Once more the rangy Croatian was denied at the post, as a wayward forehand floated long, and once more going from a position of being up a break in the decider to being on the losing side of the net.
Sock did a good job of acting quite non-plussed about his place here, and being the first American to win a set at the O2, but what gave him more pleasure was the way he came back.
“To fight through those, put yourself in position to do well in that tournament, now be here in London, to keep my hopes alive for this week as well by winning today.
“Definitely carries over, it gives you confidence when you’re in these matches, like losing the first set today, rebounding.”
The final round-robin stage for Group Boris Becker will take place on Thursday.
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