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Zverev booed by ATP Finals crowd after beating Federer in semifinals

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 17 Nov 2018
  • Alexander Zverev beat Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6(5) in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals
  • Zverev was booed by O2 Arena crowd after replayed point in the tie-break
Alexander Zverev is booed by the crowd during his interview with Annabel Croft after beating Roger Federer at the Nitto ATP Finals (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Alexander Zverev booed by ATP Finals crowd after beating Roger Federer to reach the final in London.


Alexander Zverev beat six-time champion Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6(5) to reach the final of the Nitto ATP Finals but a ballkid's mistake and a replayed point in the tie-break led to the young German being rudely booed by a Federer-loving crowd.

The youngest player in the eight-man field at 21 years of age, and already the holder of three Masters 1000 Series titles, Zverev had beaten Federer twice before but few had picked the German to win the match after he was comprehensively beaten by Novak Djokovic a few days previously. Zverev could face Djokovic in the final, with the top seed due to play Kevin Anderson in the second semifinal at 8pm GMT on Saturday.

Zverev and Roger Federer meet at the net (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) 
One of the biggest wins of the young German's career was unfortunately marred by raucous booing from the crowd when he tried to speak to on-court interview Annabel Croft after the match, leading to multiple apologies from a discomfited Zverev and an intervention from Croft, who told the crowd that they should 'be a little more respectful'. 

The source of the crowd's displeasure came in the eighth point of the second-set tie-break, with Federer leading 4-3 on serve. Zverev had missed his first serve and a lively rally was underway behind his second serve when the German stopped play, raising his hand to point out that the ballkid positioned behind Federer had dropped a ball. 

Usually this would be spotted by the umpire, who would stop play and call for the point to be replayed, but it's unusual for a player to stop play and point it out. Umpire Carlos Bernardes did call for the point to be replayed, Federer asked a couple of questions of the ballboy - seemingly asking whether he had in fact dropped the ball - and play resumed, with Zverev granted a first serve thanks to the let. Zverev promptly aced Federer to level at 4-4, hit a backhand winner to lead 5-4 and then took the next point on Federer's serve when the Swiss mishandled a drop volley into the net. Federer saved the first match point, but the second was on Zverev's serve - a tremendously potent weapon all afternoon - and the third seed landed a rattling series of forehands and cleaned up a short ball with his backhand to seal victory.

Federer was applauded off the court, but when Zverev came to the middle of the court to be interviewed by Croft, there was prolonged booing from some sections of the crowd. Zverev responded by apologizing for 'the situation in the tie-break', telling the crowd, 'The ballboy dropped the ball so it's in the rules that we have to replay the point.'

When the crowd kept booing, Croft told them, 'I don't know why you're booing because he's telling the truth, so I think you need to be a little more respectful.'

Zverev apologized several more times and looked upset throughout the rest of the interview, telling Croft at one point, 'I'm a little lost right now.'

Federer questions umpire Carlos Bernardes and the ballboy in question (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
It was a distinctly sour note for the match to end on, because while it's impossible ever to prove definitively that a single point did or did not affect the overall outcome, Zverev was the better player on the day. Both men had suffered a tough defeat in the round-robin - Federer to Kei Nishikori in his first match, Zverev to Djokovic in his second - and bounced back to go on and make the semifinals, but the aggressive approach that Zverev had showcased to beat John Isner and secure his spot in the final four served him well against a much tougher opponent, while Federer was a little tentative and found the initiative repeatedly stolen out from under him as a result.

Zverev is often accused of hanging back too far behind the baseline and grinding through long rallies instead of playing with the kind of attacking mindset that his 6'6" frame suggests, but there was little sign of that on Saturday. He, crucially, outserved Federer, hitting seven aces to the older man's three, landing a higher percentage of first serves (66% to 57%), winning a greater proportion of points behind his first serve (88% to 78%) and second serve (64% to 61%). Federer's only real look on the Zverev serve in the first set came at 3-3 when Zverev's reluctance to go straight at Federer at net, opting instead to pop a lob up over his head, got the Swiss to 15-30, but Zverev reeled off the next three points with a sharply angled backhand volley and a pair of huge serves to hold for 4-3. 

Federer could not get ahead in the scoreline in Zverev's next two service games and after the German held to lead 6-5, Federer's fifth unforced error of the set opened the door for his opponent. Zverev immediately pounced, chasing down a Federer volley to land a brilliant passing winner on the dead run for 0-30 before aggressive sequences of forehands rocked Federer back on his heels to elicit the error on consecutive points to see the younger man take the lead, 7-5.

Federer broke for the first and only time in the third game of the second set, but Zverev broke straight back and while neither man could take the definitive advantage, the German continued to look the more energized and eager player right up until the tie-break, which unfolded as discussed above. 

For the second year in a row, Federer's ATP Finals campaign - and season - ended in the semifinals at the hands of a younger man (and at this point, there are only younger men across the net), but the 20-time Grand Slam champion declined to add fuel to the fire surrounding the end of the match.



Zverev, meanwhile, can't dwell for long on the unpleasant experience of being booed after one of his best wins - he'll have the opportunity to play for the biggest title of his career when he takes on Novak Djokovic or Kevin Anderson at the ATP Finals on Sunday. 

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Zverev booed by ATP Finals crowd after beating Federer in semifinals

Alexander Zverev beat six-time champion Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6(5) to reach the final of the Nitto ATP Finals - but a ballkid's mistake and a replayed point in the tie-break led to the young German being rudely booed by a Federer-loving crowd

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