Zverev in the zone ahead of Federer semi-final showdown

 - Alex Sharp

The Nitto ATP Finals semi-final line-up is set, but who will rule in London?

Sascha Zverev hitting a forehand at the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Sascha breaks new ground once again

“I choked,” admitted Alexander Zverev in a three-set round-robin defeat by Jack Sock at last year’s ATP Finals. That loss curtailed Sascha’s 2017 season in a wrath of frustration.

Well 12 months on, the lack of perceived Grand Slam success still hangs over the German, but Zverev barked back at his critics with a canny 7-6(5), 6-3 passage past John Isner on Friday.

This time the 21-year-old booked his semi-final ticket, which is just reward for a soaring talent at tail end of another fine campaign.

It could also provide further proof that his coaching partnership with Ivan Lendl, which began in mid-August, is baring fruition.

“Sascha is very passionate about this game. He looks always for ways to improve. He's still relatively young. Already a top three player of the world a couple years in a row,” stated Novak Djokovic, defending the development of his ATP Finals title rival.

“He's playing at the very high level. It just takes a little bit more to really find that balance and find that extra level that he needs to win slams. But he's definitely on the good path. Having Lendl can only serve him as an incentive for an improvement.”

Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, worked wonders with Andy Murray’s mental fortitude to bring Major accolades and it appears the working relationship with Zverev is flourishing.

“If you're going to be strict with me with rules and stuff, the relationship is not going to last very long,” said Sascha with a smile. “He (Lendl) understood that very quickly, I think.

Dismissing Marin Cilic and Isner in the round robin format at the O2 Arena has earned Sascha a semi-final showdown with Roger Federer.

It will be another flashback to 2017 for the German, as Federer prevailed 6-1 in the deciding set against Zverev in last year’s round robin clash.

“It's obviously great getting to the semi-finals. But the tournament isn't over,” insisted the ambitious Zverev. “There's only the best in the world. I'm playing Roger, which is going to be a very difficult. On this surface he's an unbelievable player.We'll see how far I can go.”

Revitalised Federer finds top gear

What a contrast. On Sunday a dejected and agitated Federer fell to Kei Nishikori. 72 hours later the 20-time Grand Slam champion sauntered into the semi-finals with a commanding 6-4, 6-3 scoreline over the in-form Kevin Anderson.

The Swiss maestro’s variety burst into life in front of an adoring 17,000 strong crowd as Federer impressively broke Anderson four times to re-ignite his pursuit of career title No.100.

Federer, holding a favourable 3-2 head-to-head over Zverev, is adamant he can’t harbour any complacency on Saturday against the ‘Next Gen’ leader.

“Personally, I'm still not thinking of the No.100. I won't let that get in my head, make me go crazy because it should be something I'm excited about and not something I should feel extra pressure,” maintained the 37-year-old, avoiding any talk of being a centurion. “As long as Novak is in the draw, he's playing so good again, it's never going to be easy.

“I'm happy that I'm raising my level of play throughout this week. It's exciting to be in this situation now of course.”

Anderson ready to reload

It’s a historic week for Kevin Anderson whatever happens now.

The towering South African has become the first singles player from his continent to qualify for the semi-finals of the prestigious season finale.

Before receiving the force of a rejuvenated Federer, Anderson put in two mind-blowing performances to dismiss Dominic Thiem and Nishikori. In fact, he sent the Japanese star packing to the loss of just one game.

The world No.6 has a perennially positive outlook on his tennis and despite a 1-7 record over his semi-final opponent, Anderson is eager to seize his chance of derailing Djokovic’s march towards a sixth ATP Finals crown.

“He's playing amazing tennis. Obviously, he's really established himself back to the top of the game, but it’s a great, great opportunity for me,” explained Anderson, who fell in straight sets to the Serbian in the Wimbledon final and at the Shanghai Masters.  “I’ll be ready to go, fighting for spot in the finals.”

Anderson will need every possible cannonball serve to land in because it’s been full marks for unbeaten Djokovic in east London.

Three victories, all in straight sets, playing a brand of tennis which encapsulates his remarkable renaissance in the second half of 2018.

The dominance of Djokovic was compounded with 31 consecutive points won on his serve during a 7-6(7), 6-2 triumph over Cilic.

The world No.1 accelerates into the semi-finals with a 3-0 group stage showing for the fifth time (2012-14, 2016).  The Serbian is also 13-0 versus Top 10 talent since Wimbledon.

Over to you Kevin…


Doubles quartet out to book final ticket

Over to the doubles and Roland Garros champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut advanced into the semi-finals to face the Colombian combination of Juan Sebastian Cabal alongside Robert Farah.

Herbert and Mahut, in France’s Davis Cup final squad later this month, dispatched Mike Bryan and Jack Sock 6-2, 6-2 on Friday night to top Group Knowles/Nestor in order to progress to the weekend.

British hopes lie with Jamie Murray and partner Bruno Soares. The duo also reached the final four in 2016-17 and will hope to take a step further up against the formidable pairing of Wimbledon and Us Open champions Bryan/Sock.