Two-time champion Alexander Zverev spoiled Carlos Alcaraz’s Nitto ATP Finals debut on Monday when he produced a clean-hitting performance to triumph 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 against the Spaniard.
The German is making his sixth appearance at the prestigious year-end event, having won the title in his previous outing in Turin in 2021 and in London in 2018. Zverev used his experience to good effect against debutant Alcaraz, staying composed on serve and from the baseline to move to 1-0 in Red Group play.
“My serve helped me a lot. Saving the break point in the first game of the second set helped me,” Zverev said. “You don’t want to go down a set and a break against the World No. 2, so I am happy.”
After squandering a break advantage in the first set, the World No. 7 stayed positive, with his depth and consistency in the second and third sets causing a misfiring Alcaraz problems. The 27-year-old won 78 per cent (59/75) of his first-serve points and recovered from falling heavily on his left ankle in the third set to improve to 4-3 in the pair’s Lexus ATP Head2Head series after two hours and 32 minutes.
Zverev missed last year’s event due to a right ankle injury he sustained during his Roland Garros semi-final against Rafael Nadal. He walked gingerly between points in the late stages of his clash with Alcaraz after falling on his left ankle on Monday, but continued to improve to 13-8 at the Nitto ATP Finals.
“I didn’t twist my ankle. I kind of slipped. There was a pain for a while and I don’t think any damage has been done,” Zverev said on his fall. “I hope not and we will see when it settles down. It is nothing comparable to Paris.”
In front of a packed crowd in the Pala Alpitour, Alcaraz responded from falling behind an early break by striking back immediately, showing good touch to pull Zverev from corner to corner. On return at 6-5, The Spaniard blasted a forehand winner to go ahead in the game and moved to set point with good touch at the net.
However, the German saved both set points from 15/40, striking a second serve ace at 135 mph, before finding another first serve at 30/40 that Alcaraz could only return into the net. The Spaniard would not be denied, though, playing with trademark intensity in the tie-break to lead.
Zverev was on the backfoot at the start of the second set, facing a break point in the opening game. Alcaraz struck a backhand into the net, though, and from that moment, the momentum of the set changed. Zverev won 90 per cent (19/21) of his first-serve points and was frequently playing from inside the baseline to rush Alcaraz.
The German then gained the decisive break of the third set in the fifth game when Alcaraz decided to leave a ball that dropped in. Zverev then took a tumble in the following game when moving out wide to hit a forehand, going over on his ankle. He was able to get to his feet though and continued to improve to 54-26 on the season.
Alcaraz is chasing his seventh title of the season and first since he clinched his second major trophy at Wimbledon in July. The 20-year-old, who missed last year’s event due to injury, is the youngest player in the eight-man field and is trying to become the youngest champion at the Nitto ATP Finals since Pete Sampras in 1991. Due to the round-robin format, he is still alive in Turin.
Daniil Medvedev will face Andrey Rublev in the second Red Group singles match on Tuesday.