Alexander Zverev blew Rafael Nadal off the court in a little over an hour and a half at Bercy on Saturday afternoon and plays the unpredictable Russian Daniil Medvedev for the Paris Masters title on Sunday.
The young German’s patience and concentration were as impressive as his power as he gave Nadal no peace to win 6-4, 7-5. Earlier, Medvedev had a trickier time beating Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (4).
Zverev, who is 21-2 since losing to Andy Murray in the first round of the Cincinnati Open in early August, said courtside: “I’m extremely happy how the season continued for me after the break. But tomorrow’s a final. Daniil’s a great player, especially on this surface.”
Zverev’s first win over Nadal arrived a year ago in London, after he had split with his coach and agent, and he had the familiar mien of a troubled sporting celebrity. Yet his tennis stayed strong. On Saturday, with contested allegations of abuse by a former girlfriend dogging him still, he beat Nadal for only the second time in seven attempts. If anyone can separate their situations on and off court it would appear to be Zverev.
David Ferrer’s arrival as his coach has paid an instant dividend, and he said of the Spaniard: “We worked quite hard on a lot of things during the break. My second serve was a big problem for me last year, no secret. That’s what I worked on the most.” He won nine of 17 points on second serve in the semi-final.
Zverev’s excellent week in Paris paves the way for a return – alongside Nadal, Medvedev, Novak Djokovic, Diego Schwartzman, Andrey Rublev, Dominic Thiem and the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas – to the O2 Arena in London on 15 November, when the ATP World Tour Finals will wind up after a dozen lucrative years on the southern shore of the Thames.
Zverev went into this match with 11 straight wins behind him, but bang into the player who had won 10 on the spin himself, the first seven of which won him his 13th French Open.
The German was a short-priced favourite against a revered opponent vulnerable on indoor hard courts, a notion hinted at when he broke to love in the third game and given substance when he served out the set in 38 minutes. He went 3-1 up in the second and the match was his to lose.
Nadal’s spirit and pedigree kept him in the fight. He levelled at four-all, then held to love. Zverev allowed himself a smile when a delicate volley fell kindly for him off the net on his way to a third break. He did not waste it, serving out to 15.
The other semi-final pivoted on the eighth game of the second set when Medvedev saved three break points. Raonic rekindled hope when he broke Medvedev for the first time in their four matches, only to lose focus in the tie-break.
He was 5-1 down in the shootout against Humbert on Friday and recovered; Raonic went 4-1 down now but his serve could not extricate him from his dilemma a second time. The end was relatively mundane, a controlled Medvedev smash once he had manoeuvred Raonic out of position behind the baseline.