Alexander Zverev scored his first top-10 victory of the year over Roger Federer (PA Sports)
Roger Federer was handed a point penalty during a shock defeat to Alexander Zverev at the Shanghai Masters.
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Alexander Zverev completed a youthful lineup of semifinalists at the Shanghai Rolex Masters after defeating Roger Federer in three sets, with Federer unusually penalised for unsportmanlike conduct during the match.
Federer was docked a point after a second instance of ball abuse early in the third set, leading to a series of arguments with the umpire.
Zverev, who is 22 years old, will face 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini in the Shanghai Rolex Masters semifinals on Saturday. The other semifinal sees 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev taking on Stefanos Tsitsipas (21), after the latter defeated defending champion Novak Djokovic earlier in the day.
Tennis is quick to embrace narratives about a supposed changing of the guard, but it’s rare to see such a youthful lineup in the climactic stages of a Masters 1000 Series event, underlined by Zverev shouting ‘It’s my f**king time!’ after closing out Federer on his sixth match point (not the first time he’s announced something similar).
In truth Zverev was the better player for the majority of the match and probably should have closed it out in straight sets. He dominated the first set as Federer turned in a sub-par performance, breaking to lead 4-2 after setting up break point with a clean return winner down the line, consolidating to 15 and closing out the set 6-3 with his fifth ace, having lost just three points on serve.
Federer struck back immediately in the second set when Zverev served his first double fault of the match to go down 0-30, landing a perfect lob for two break points and converting the second with a winning drop shot to end a lengthy rally. He was up 2-0, but Zverev broke straight back as his passing shots continued to punish Federer at net, and the set went with serve until 5-5 when Zverev broke, striking a forehand pass winner to end another long all-court exchange.
Serving for the match, Zverev swiftly went up 40-0 to give himself three match points – but Federer suddenly pulled some of his best tennis, not just by the standards of the day, out of the bag to save all three match points, levelling to deuce with a lunging backhand volley. Rattled, Zverev missed a backhand volley of his own to go down break point and Federer produced a remarkable backhand half-volley to break back for 6-6.
Federer roared in triumph after retrieving the break in the nick of time, but Zverev still stood up gamely in the tie-break, earning a fourth match point on Federer’s serve at 5-6. It was erased with a serve and volley, but Zverev swiftly set up a fifth match point – this one on his own serve – after a backhand pass winner, with a furious Federer swiping a ball high into the stands and receiving a warning for ball abuse.
Zverev was unable to convert the fifth match point, however, as his backhand drifted long, and with the pressure mounting on the German to seal the match after having had so many opportunities to do so, he cracked, firing a forehand long to give Federer his first set point – duly and immediately converted by the Swiss.
It seemed like all the momentum was with Federer, but instead it was Zverev who drew first blood in the decider, breaking to lead 2-0 as a frustrated Federer complained to the umpire about something while changing his racquet, at one point saying, ‘I’ve got other issues, man. Missing shots. Apart from that.’
Zverev consolidated the break to lead 3-0 and Federer found himself on the verge of going down a double break at 0-3, 15-30, when he was docked a point by the umpire after a second instance of ball abuse. Federer took issue with the ruling, and although he held serve to avoid going down the double break, he challenged the umpire on the following changeover. When the umpire responded ‘What?’ after Federer asked him to tell him the rule, Federer snapped: ‘What are we talking about now, butterflies? There’s one thing in this room now that’s bothering both of us.’
The umpire would find himself in the hot seat once more as Zverev served for the match at 5-3, with the German taking exception to a let call. But having allowed the opportunity to close out the match slip through his fingers in the second set, Zverev rose to the occasion the second time around, converting his sixth match point to seal victory.
Remarkably, it was Zverev’s first victory over a top-10 opponent in a 2019 season that’s been a real struggle for the German – although not so much of a struggle that he isn’t very much in contention for one of the two spots remaining open at the ATP Finals. Zverev, the 2018 champion at the O2 Arena, currently has a 130-point lead on the man he’ll be facing in Saturday’s semifinals, US Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini. The winner of Saturday’s encounter will be almost guaranteed a place among the elite eight at the season-ending championships.