Roger Federer inched closer to success in his first year-end championships since 2011 by sealing his place in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals with a 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-1 victory over Alexander Zverev.
Group Boris Becker was blown open with Jack Sock’s win over Marin Cilic earlier in the afternoon which ensured victory for Federer would seal his place in the last four. Zverev was unable to qualify even with victory and will face Sock in a winner-takes-all showdown on Thursday.
Federer improves to 2-0 at the O2 Arena and he will be content with his level of performance despite a marked dip in set two. Zverev seized his opportunity to level the match but the Swiss flexed his muscles in the decider to improve to 3-2 over the 20-year-old.
The opening few service games certainly weren’t in keeping with the remainder of the opening set as opportunities arose for both players. The German fashioned three break points on Federer’s serve but the 36-year-old, who relinquished only five break points in his opening tie against Sock on Sunday, sharpened his focus to reel off five straight points to hold.
It was much the same for Zverev who was forced to stave off an early break point but from there onwards, both players were serving dimes.
The German surrendered only a single point in three straight service games while Federer began to find his groove off the ground. He was frequently teasing Zverev with his short slice down the line and the towering German was having difficulty generating any pace from the ground.
The drama was in short supply but the crowd were on the edge of their seats when Federer opened the door at 6-5. Zverev coughed up a pair of break point opportunity and was salvaged by a fortunate net cord to the dismay of Federer. A tiebreak would follow and Zverev would be left to rue a near-miss.
Leading 4-1 he challenged a Federer first serve in which he was able to return. The Swiss then flashed four straight points past his opponent before, at 6-6, Zverev’s forehand deserted him.
It was advantage Federer and he sought to establish his dominance by breaking in the very opening service game of set two. Many anticipated a procession but Zverev displayed the fighting spirit which has propelled him to number three on the planet. He restored parity at 2-2 and was threatening Federer’s serve until the world number two cracked in the seventh game of the set.
Triple set point arrived at 6-5 for the German and his peerless defensive skills were on show when he stretched to slap a forehand cross-court to draw the error from Federer.
He clenched his fist in delight and the deciding set was perfectly poised after a hold each.
That was when Federer struck and the resilience that has characterized Zverev’s memorable season was in scant supply as the Swiss pounded his forehand. An errant backhand at 15-40 gifted the all-important break in the third set. What followed typified Federer’s superiority.
He held to love and battled back from 0-40 down on the German's serve to confirm the double break for 4-1. Fighting off brief resistance from the 20-year-old he rung up match point at 5-1. Zverev tamely double-faulted and the Swiss’ chances of ending his World Tour Finals hoodoo increases.