Alexander Zverev did not need to consult prepared notes from his phone to identify the task facing him to win his second ATP Finals title after a ragged three-set struggle to get past Diego Schwartzman on day four of the week-long tournament.
“I have to win every match,” he said courtside. “Simple as that.” If only his private life were similarly uncomplicated.
There were moments, though, in his second round-robin match – he lost in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev in his first – when he looked as likely to collapse as prevail before holding the Argentinian at bay to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
It looked as if Schwartzman had caught Zverev very much on an upward curve, and it got steeper quickly as the world No 7 twice broke his opponent’s weaker serve, before giving up his own as well. Even when he stood on the service line after 40 minutes with the set in his pocket, Zverev had to save two break points. Uncertainty reigned at both ends.
If Schwartzman’s pop-gun delivery was a hindrance to his levering any strategic advantage further inside the court, Zverev’s wayward bombs were also a liability. Three double faults cancelled out his two aces as he sprayed the blue court in a desperate search for precision. The disparity in average service speed in the opening frame was also marked: 106mph for Zverev and 86mph for Schwartzman.
It almost was not fair – but not a lot in the Argentinian’s life has been for the son of Jewish emigres who lost everything in the economic collapse that paralysed Argentina in the 90s. On court, his struggle here was more prosaic. He has risen to No 9 in the world with a solid, dogged game that has troubled all his peers – including Zverev in two wins from four.
Zverev crushed him 6-2, 6-1 in Cologne last month and this contest began to unravel along similar lines when Schwartzman threw away his serve in the third game of the second set with a wild forehand. However he steadied his nerves with a grinding hold through three deuce points that lasted eight minutes, then broke Zverev for three-all. Zverev’s composure deserted him and he belted the ball high into the empty seats when Schwartzman broke again to force a deciding set.
As his serve clicked again, Zverev reasserted his dominance, and Schwartzman again was pitched into a fight for survival. He hung on grimly to extend the argument but there was no avoiding the inevitable conclusion.