In a match which could all but guarantee the winner a place among the elite eight at the Nitto ATP Finals, Alexander Zverev faces Matteo Berrettini for a place in the final of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
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Alexander Zverev looks to reach his first Masters 1000 Series final of the year as he takes on Matteo Berrettini in the semifinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
The result of Saturday’s clash could be a crucial one in deciding the line-up at the Nitto ATP Finals. Only two spots remain open at the season-ending championships after Stefanos Tsitsipas became the sixth player to qualify on Friday, and Zverev and Berrettini are currently in pole position to claim them, in seventh and eighth position respectively. Zverev leads Berrettini by 130 points, but ninth-placed Roberto Bautista Agut is within 200 points of both men and could conceivably pip either to the post and nab one of the remaining two spots over the next two weeks. The player who reaches the Shanghai final will add another 240 points to their total, giving them a crucial cushion.
Zverev, of course, is the defending champion at the ATP Finals – and it must be said that on Friday, for almost the first time this season, he looked like it as he delivered a confident, aggressive, resilient performance to knock Roger Federer out at the quarterfinal stage. During a season which has been undeniably disappointing for Zverev (while still being good enough for him to be in contention for the ATP Finals, one notes), the German, who has struggled with off-court issues, has all too often played with a lack of both aggression and confidence, rallying passively behind the baseline and littering his game with an often shocking number of double faults. That was not at all the case on Friday. While Federer was having a poor day, playing uncharacteristically error-prone tennis at the net, serving ineffectively and frustrated enough to both incur a rare point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and to argue with the umpire about it at length, Zverev served very well, landing 17 aces, making 78% of first serves and winning 77% of the points played behind them. He took his chances to press and attack, and struck many impressive, even sensational winners, with his passing shots and aggressive returning particularly noteworthy.
Perhaps most significantly, Zverev also didn’t fall apart after having lost the second set in calamitous fashion, failing to win the match in straight sets despite being up 6-3, 6-5, 40-0 and holding two additional match points in the subsequent tie-break. He bounced straight back in the decider to break and lead 2-0, and never let up the pressure; and while Federer helped him a little with an erratic, unfocused set, Zverev stuck to his game plan in a way he hasn’t been able to all year.
‘Finally starting to kind of play the way I should play, really. I was playing really defensive the whole year, and I was not with a lot of confidence,’ Zverev said afterwards.
Ironically it may have been Federer himself who helped to effect this transformation, having encouraged Zverev to believe that he could turn his season around and insisting upon the younger man displaying positive emotion during Laver Cup matches with both representing Team Europe. Certainly, Zverev and his Laver Cup teammate Stefanos Tsitsipas (who beat Novak Djokovic) scored the biggest wins of the day on a drama-filled Friday in Shanghai, leading to an unusually youthful semifinal lineup consisting of Daniil Medvedev (23), Tsitsipas (21), Zverev (22) and Berrettini (23).
Zverev and Tsitsipas stole the limelight with their wins over Federer and Djokovic, but Berrettini’s win over fourth seed Dominic Thiem was also a very significant one. It’s no surprise that the big-serving Italian is thriving on the faster-than-usual courts in Shanghai, but this is uncharted territory for him – before this week, he had only once won back-to-back matches at Masters 1000 Series level.
The odd one out among the semifinalists in terms of experience – Zverev has won three Masters 1000 Series titles, Medvedev one and Tsitsipas has been in two finals – Berrettini may have been a little slower than some to break through to the top echelons, but he’s certainly knocking on the door with a vengeance now. With two 250 titles and a runner-up finish at a third 250 event under his belt in 2019, Berrettini’s best result was his US Open semifinal run which took him past Andrey Rublev and Gael Monfils before losing to Rafael Nadal.
Since the US Open, Berrettini had gone an unimpressive 1-2 and lost a tight one to Andy Murray and his metal hip in Beijing last week in two tie-break sets, but he has hit his stride again in Shanghai where he has yet to drop a set in wins over Jan-Lennard Struff, Christian Garin, former runner-up (and London contender) Bautista Agut and finally Thiem in Friday’s quarterfinals. Berrettini’s wins against Bautista Agut and Thiem were tight straight-set matches won in similar style – a tie-break and a 6-4 second set – and while I didn’t see him beat the Spaniard, I thought Berrettini was excellent against Thiem, playing an aggressive but smart match distinguished by good serving as he won 40 of 48 points played behind his first serve and saved all three break points he faced.
Berrettini was also able to dictate a lot of points with his big forehand, an area of the game in which he has the advantage over Zverev, and although Thiem is not the most formidable of the top players on a court of this type, it was nevertheless a very solid way to improve to 5-2 vs top-10 players in 2019.
Two previous meetings between Zverev and Berrettini have been split, with Zverev winning in straight sets in Rome in May 2018, Berrettini winning in straight sets at the same tournament this spring. Experience at this level is obviously on Zverev’s side, but I think the big test is going to be once more psychological for the German: Can he maintain the confident, aggressive tennis he showcased against Federer when he’s taking on a player he’s relatively expected to beat? I don’t think it’s going to be easy for him to do so, but I also think that there are ways for him to exploit certain weaknesses in Berrettini’s game – most significantly the tendency to slice the backhand – if he can be sufficiently aggressive, and with the opportunity to shore up his chances of making it back to the ATP Finals, he has every incentive to do so.
Zverev vs Berrettini Shanghai Masters tennis is live from Shanghai on Saturday at 8pm local/1pm BST
Zverev vs Berrettini tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Crucial clash between London contenders for a place in the Shanghai final
In a match which could all but guarantee the winner a place among the elite eight at the Nitto ATP…
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