Billed as the ‘present vs future’ of men’s tennis, Alexander Zverev followed in the footsteps of Novak Djokovic at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday night.
Sascha steps up to join the elite as the Heirs rise
Alexander Zverev lifted the biggest title of his fledging career at the ATP Finals but will the German youngster capture Grand Slam glory in 2019?
Rewind a decade to 2008 and Djokovic clinched his maiden ATP Finals crown in Shanghai at the age of 21. Back to 2018, Zverev collapsed to the floor in disbelief, he had joined the greats, had replicated his opponent to rule the season ending finale at 21.
It could prove to be a seismic shift in the upper echelons of the game. Has Sascha sparked the ‘Next Gen’ into dominance?
“There's no doubt he will be one of the favourites every slam,” is quite the statement from Djokovic, who skipped over the other side of net to hug the German youngster in a sporting gesture after Championship point.
There certainly is a lot of time ahead for Sascha to develop but also to dominate.
‘Astonishing’ Federer-Djokovic double
The magnitude of the 6-4, 6-3 triumph over the world No.1 will be cherished by Zverev.
“This trophy means a lot to all the players. You only have so many chances of winning it. You play against the best players only,” explained the Hamburg native. “How I played today, how I won it, for me it's just amazing.”
The ‘Next Gen’ of stars has been simmering for a few seasons now, waiting for that standout moment to genuinely challenge the spectacular dominance of the much heralded ‘Big Four’.
“It's great, but the future, we still got multiple and multiple years for all of us ahead. A lot of things can happen. A lot of things can change,” added Zverev with steely focus and determination.
“I'll do everything I can to be on top. Obviously, us young guys, we're coming through. Khachanov winning the Masters in Paris was a big thing. But the other guys are playing great tennis, as well.”
Such a performance produced a lot of records and firsts, but what made this particular title extra special was the sequence of toppling Federer and Djokovic in succession.
He is only the fourth player to achieve such an accolade in the semi-finals and final of the same event. Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and David Nalbandian complete an impressive quartet.
“Obviously it's quite astonishing, winning this title, beating two such players back-to-back, Roger and Novak, in semi-finals and finals. Means so much,” stated Zverev. “I'm incredibly happy and incredibly proud of this moment right now.”
Grand Slams glory up next?
During media duties the ‘Next Gen’ leader can express a wicked sense of humour. “Obviously, you could win any match you want. But I appreciate you letting me win one today,” quipped the 21-year-old towards Djokovic in his winner’s speech.
However, the tone can change when Grand Slams are mentioned.
Remarkably for a player entrenched in the Top 5, Zverev is on the one hand rather underrated. It shouldn’t be a shock he won on Sunday. However, his career best Grand Slam showing of a quarter-final at Roland Garros in June raises plenty of questions.
Can he build momentum in the Majors and dethrone the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal?
“They're still going to be the guys to beat at the big tournaments. I will hope. I will do everything I can to get better, to compete with them always. I feel like I'm doing that,” continued the ambitious world No.4.
“Still I have a lot of things to improve. I'm still very young. Hopefully next year I'll be able to play better tennis than I did this year, even though it's been a good year.”
Zverev’s team urged more aggression in his play than the round-robin demolition by Djokovic earlier in the week and it paid off with some pulsating rallies.
Whilst matching the 14-time Grand Slam champion from the back of the court, Zverev also showed great mental strength.
Djokovic entered court having won all 4 matches of the event in straight sets, the rejuvenated top seed had also held 36 consecutive service games in London.
Zverev brushed that all aside with stop volleys applauded by his perplexed opponent and striking timely aces in the 140mph bracket. It was simply stunning.
Lendl begins to work wonders
Eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl arrived on the Zverev coaching set-up in mid-August and his impact is evident by those scenes on Sunday.
The crisp volleys and ease at transitioning to the net against Djokovic had all the hallmarks of Lendl’s nine consecutive finals in the season-ending finale (1980-88).
“Obviously Ivan, the experience he has on and off the court, is amazing. That helped me to play the two matches that I played back-to-back now.
“My dad built my foundation. He built the person that I am, but obviously there's a lot of credit to Ivan.”
Djokovic hails phenomenal season
As for Djokovic, his turn around as world No.21 going into Wimbledon to soaring all the way back to world No.1 was a captivating and courageous comeback.
Despite missing out on the trophy in London, the 31-year-old can reflect on a special second half to 2018 where he claimed the crown at Wimbledon and US Open.
“Finishing the year as No.1, that was the goal coming into the indoor season. I managed to achieve that. Overall it was a phenomenal season that I have to be definitely very proud of.
“I always believe in myself. I kind of also expect myself to do very well,” insisted Djokovic ahead of the off-season.
“I've had most success in my life, in my career, in Australia out of all four slams. Hopefully I can keep that going.”
Sascha will certainly have his say.