World number one Roger Federer takes on eighth ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany. The two may come from different generations but they have been playing similarly excellent tennis all week. The pair look at home on the hard courts of North America, and this clash between once and future kings promises to be a thriller.
Federer and Zverev have met three times on the tour in their careers. Their first two meetings, coming in 2016, were split one apiece. Federer took the first in Rome, winning in straight sets in the round of 32. Zverev gained his revenge in Halle in the semi-finals, overcoming Federer’s dominant history at the tournament to win in three sets. Their third tour meeting came in a Halle rematch in 2017, this time in the final. Federer controlled that match from start to finish, dragging Zverev forward with slices and dismantling him in a 6-1 6-3 win. However, they have also met once on hard courts, in the Hopman Cup, which is not a tour event, in January of this year. Zverev took that encounter after three tightly contested sets. It came down to a final set tie break but Zverev’s power eventually told.
Federer has the overwhelming advantage in terms of career experience. It is one he possesses against most opponents and is unsurprising considering he turned professional when Zverev was one. Federer has claimed 93 titles and 1115 wins so far in his career. Zverev has five titles and 107 wins. That being said, his haul is impressive for a 20-year-old, with the Rome Masters title being the most glittering crown he can lay claim to. Interestingly, Federer has recently said that, at times, he wished he could play with the freedom of a younger player just beginning their career, despite the valuable experience he has gained. Zverev may, for once, not have been the young sensation this week thanks to Denis Shapovalov’s mesmerising run, but he is certainly young. Whether that youth will help him against Federer’s experience will be one of the most intriguing aspects of the match.
Federer’s path to the final
Federer, the second seed, enjoyed a bye into the second round. There he began against Canada’s Peter Polansky. The Swiss had defeated Polansky three years ago in Toronto 6-2 6-0 in their only previous match and came close to inflicting the same score on him. Up 6-2 5-0 Federer held match points, but Polansky managed to defy him. It had little impact on the outcome, unfortunately for Polansky, as he fell 6-2 6-1. Federer moved onto face David Ferrer, once a perennial top 10 foe. That being said, even in his glory days, Ferrer couldn’t score a win against Federer, his record going into the match was no wins and 16 losses. Ferrer began brightly and took the first set. But Federer rebounded in the second, and in the decider, Ferrer’s challenge faded. He fell 6-2 as Federer wrapped up victory number 17.
In the quarter-finals, Federer came up against another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut. The match began evenly, but Federer broke decisively in the ninth game of the match. He served out the set and broke Bautista Agut early in the second. The Spaniard couldn’t recover the deficit, and Federer took the 6-4 6-4 win to move into the semi-finals. His opponent was Robin Haase, who had a surprise run following the early loss of Dominic Thiem, the highest seed in his section. Federer pressed early and manufactured four break points in Haase’s first service game. The Dutchman saved them all but when Federer forced a fifth, Haase could only volley into the net.
Federer maintained that advantage to take the opener 6-3 but was unable to break in the second. He himself was serene on serve, losing just one point over the five games, but Haase battled hard to stay in contention and reach a tie break. There he recovered from a 4-1 deficit to reach 5-5. Federer earned a match point though. After a long rally, Haase blinked first, pulling a forehand wide to send Federer into his third Masters 1000 final of the year.
Zverev’s path to the final
Zverev, also amongst the top eight seeds, received a first round bye. This saw him begin against France’s Richard Gasquet, formerly a Grand Slam semi-finalist on three occasions. Zverev, however, bossed the early proceedings and took the first set 6-3 against a Gasquet who looked out of his depth. But Gasquet dug in during the second set and stole a march late on to take it 6-4. It was his turn to press in the decider. He came to within a point of taking the match, only to be denied by the German in a 49 stroke rally. A tie break followed, which Zverev won comfortably to progress into the third round. There he came up against a red hot Nick Kyrgios, who had won their only two previous meetings earlier in the year, in Indian Wells and Miami.
But Zverev has improved since then and came into this match the higher ranked man and the favourite. He showed exactly why that is the case, dismissing the Australian in straight sets. Kyrgios did look to be struggling with injuries during the match, but the German looked excellent all the same. In the quarter-finals, he faced a rematch of the Washington Open final in which he had defeated Kevin Anderson. Zverev broke Anderson early, only to throw the lead away when he allowed himself to be broken from 40-0 up. However, he got ahead again late on when Anderson netted a volley facing break point. From there he served out the set and broke Anderson again mid-way through the second set. Anderson had chances but couldn’t reclaim the break as Zverev fired his way into the semi-finals.
Awaiting him was the story of the week, 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov. The Canadian had thrilled the crowds all week with his attacking play and fearless performances. Already the 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and world number two Rafael Nadal had fallen to him. The first set was full of thrilling shot making from both, but eventually, Zverev gained the upper hand. He drove a superb backhand beyond Shapovalov’s reach to set up a break point at 4-4 and the pressure told as Shapovalov double faulted.
After serving out the set, Zverev broke immediately to take what looked like a commanding lead. But Shapovalov has proved all week he should not be taken lightly, and he broke back. They continued to trade blows, with Shapovalov earning three break points that he couldn’t take. When Zverev’s chance arrived at 5-5, he took it, breaking to 15. Shapovalov wasn’t quite finished yet, saving two match points and forcing break points of his own but he couldn’t stave off defeat. His dream run came to an end when a backhand went wide, and Zverev was into his second Masters final.
How do they match up?
Federer is a master of the entire court but is at his best when coming forward and playing aggressively. Nearly 50 losses at the hands of Nadal and Novak Djokovic have taught to him adapt when up against the newer, more ruthless baseliners. Zverev fits firmly into that category. Though he is not uncomfortable at the net, he is at his best when he is pummelling groundstrokes from the baseline. There are few who can hit harder and more consistently than him.
One of the most interesting battles will be between the backhand. Zverev has an incredible amount of variety off that wing and hits it with great power. Federer’s backhand has improved immeasurably since the start of his career, but cannot stand up against that level of power. He will have to ensure he doesn’t get dragged into long rallies backhand to backhand, and would do well to exploit his slice to disrupt Zverev’s rhythm.
The serve will likely be the key though. Both are excellent in this area and are also terrific returners. Though Zverev’s choice to return from deep behind the baseline can allow his opponents to exploit angles, he seems to have an excellent read on serves. When he gets his racket to the ball, he usually does something meaningful. Federer possesses perhaps the most accurate serve in the game and excels at dealing with pace off an opponent’s serve. Whoever has the better serving day will likely claim the title.
This will be a tight match. It is almost too close to call. Neither player has faced an opponent of the calibre they are coming up against in the final. And with Zverev having captured a title at this level, he is unlikely to be overawed by the occasion. But Federer should have just enough to win it. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and will be backed by the lions share of the crowd. That will likely prove just enough to see him over the line as he hunts down Djokovic and Nadal’s shared record of 30 Masters 1000 crowns. Federer in three.
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