ATP Cup Semi-finals: Alexander Zverev bounced back after a tough singles defeat to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Friday to send Germany into the ATP Cup semi-finals for the first time.
The World No. 7 partnered Jan-Lennard Struff to victory in the deciding doubles rubber against Djokovic and Nikola Cacic 7-6(4), 5-7, 10-7.
Struff was Germany’s hero, having earlier won the No. 2 singles against Dusan Lajovic, before teaming with Zverev to seal the tie for Germany 2-1, knocking out the defending champion.
Germany advances to face Russia, the Group D winner, in Saturday’s semi-finals, with the final to be played Sunday. Team Russia is led by the double threat of Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, who are both ranked inside the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“Obviously, [Russia is a] great team. Daniil Medvedev [is in] great shape. Rublev [is in] very good shape. But we too are also in good shape, so [it is] going to be [a] very interesting, intense tie and I hope we can beat them,” said Germany captain Mischa Zverev in a statement.
In dramatic doubles, the Germans won six straight points from 2/4 down in the Match Tie-break, freezing out Djokovic at every opportunity and directing as much traffic as possible to the more inexperienced Cacic.
In last year’s ATP Cup final, Djokovic backed up from his singles win over Rafael Nadal to partner Viktor Troicki in the deciding doubles, which earned Serbia the inaugural title.
“I think we played maybe a little bit more aggressive [in the doubles]. In the end, we maybe took a few more shots, but it was so tight it could have gone both ways,” said Alexander Zverev.
“At the end of the day, when you win the doubles decider 10-7 in the third set there’s not much between the two. We’re just super happy right now,” he added.
In the No.1 singles match, Djokovic extended his record at the ATP Cup to 11 straight victories after winning a three-set thriller against Zverev 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5 to keep defending Serbia alive in the tie.
“I thought we both played well,” Djokovic said on court. “He definitely had a big serving match. It was so difficult to play against him today. Missiles from the other side of the court, both first and second serve. He was going for it, not too many double faults. You’ve got to give him credit for being courageous and trying his best… Overall it was a very enjoyable match.”
There was little to separate Zverev and Djokovic throughout a tense opening set under the roof in Rod Laver Arena. There were no break-points on offer as both players leaned on big first serves to take control of the rallies. Zverev pulled away in the tiebreak and closed out the set with an ace.
The Serbian adjusted his return position to deal with Zverev’s powerful second serves, the German gambling with first-serve levels of speed and power.
Djokovic took a step back and was rewarded with his first break of the match. He reeled off three games in a row to take a 5-2 lead with a perfectly placed lob landing plumb on the line.
Djokovic broke through late in the third set to take a 5-4 lead, but struggled to close it out the as the German saved a match point.
With his back against the wall, Zverev finally earned his first break chance of the match in the third, breaking the World No. 1 to level the score. But two double faults in the next game undid his effort, and gave Djokovic the opening to break back and claim his 11th consecutive ATP Cup victory.
“Staying on the line with 220, 217 [kph] second serves, it’s a huge risk,” Djokovic said of his second-set adjustments. “I tried to read his serve. [In the] second set I started to read his patterns a little bit better.
“The third set was a gamble, really. It was anybody’s game. He double-faulted on a break-point, it was a crucial game. I was 15/30 down, I went for it also, a big second serve. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.”
Struff, who also represented Germany in 2020, won his third consecutive ATP Cup match with an upset over former World No. 3 Milos Raonic to give his country a winning start, and backed it up against Lajovic that came out swinging in the opening set.
The Serbian outlasted him at the baseline to claim the first break of the match at 4-2. He exploited the German’s movement as he continually dragged Struff out wide and followed up with down-the-line winners to closeout the opening set.
But Struff raised his level in the second set and saved four break points across two service games to keep Lajovic at bay. The German finally broke through at 5-3, and levelled the score after serving out the set to love. Lajovic looked to be struggling physically and needed a medical time out to treat blisters on his feet after dropping the second set.
Struff kept Lajovic on the defence and under pressure with his big serve, and he edged in front after trading breaks of serve for a 5-4 lead. Lajovic couldn’t convert on two more break-points as Struff claimed the victory after just over two hours on court.
“[I feel] very, very relieved. It was a tough match. I didn’t start very well. Dusan was playing pretty good. He had break points [at the] beginning of the second set. I managed to stay in the match,” said Struff
“I managed to gain some more self-confidence there in my strokes… In the third set, I had the feeling I had very good energy from the beginning on. Yeah, very, very happy about this [victory],” he added.