Preview: Zverev Looking To Repeat Rome Victory Against Djokovic
It’s fair to say Novak Djokovic is a much different player now than he was when he and Alexander Zverev first squared off in a battle of generations in the 2017 Internazionali BNL d’Italia final in Rome.
At the time, Djokovic was in the midst of change and frustration. He had split with his longtime team two weeks earlier, and the Serbian had celebrated only two titles in the past nine months.
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Look ahead 17 months, though, and the 31-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 champion might be reaching a new peak. He has won 16 consecutive matches, dating back to his titles at the Western & Southern Open and US Open, and is into his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final of the season (Cincinnati, Rome) at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
“I wasn’t, I feel like, playing as well as I’m playing today,” Djokovic said. “I’m very grateful to play on a high level. I think that I’m very close to my best, and ‘best’ changes day to day. I can always strive to be the best I can be on that given day.”
But Zverev also hasn’t stood still since winning his first Masters 1000 title on clay against Djokovic. The German has won two more Masters 1000 titles, become a Top 5 staple on the ATP World Tour and, on Friday, secured his second consecutive trip to the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, to be held 11-18 November at The O2 in London.
“I think every year you feel more mature. Ever year you spend on tour, you feel kind of different,” Zverev said. “Last year was the first time I kind of broke through to the Top 10 and was a Top 5 player. It’s always easier to get there, but then staying there is always the tougher part.
“[I’m] solidifying that I am a Top 5 player this year, and obviously with Novak coming back, winning two Grand Slams, and other players like Del Potro playing great again, it was a much tougher year, for sure, but I feel like I’m a better player. I feel like I’m still competing for the best and biggest tournaments.”
Djokovic compared their Saturday semi-final to his quarter-final on Thursday, when he dismissed 6’8” Kevin Anderson in straight sets.
“It’s going to be definitely a close match, I think, quite similar in style of the play to today’s match. Kevin is a big server, big hitter from the back of the court, really aggressive, tall. Sascha is similar to that,” Djokovic said.
“In these kind of conditions, everything happens so quickly, so I have to be alert and very focused from the very first point, try to get as many serves back in play as I have done today.”
If the Serbian beats Zverev, he will return to No. 2 in the ATP Rankings. But in Saturday’s other semi-final, Roger Federer will try to do all he can to stay No. 2.
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The top-seeded Swiss will meet Croatian Borna Coric in a rematch of their BNP Paribas Open semi-final, which Federer won in three sets in Indian Wells. But Coric gained revenge in June, beating the 98-time tour-level titlist in the Gerry Weber Open final in Halle.
“Both matches were very, very close… [In Halle,] it was close all the way till the end. He was better on the big points. It was tough. He played really well, I thought,” Federer said.
“He’s good in defence. He has a transition game now too, and he’s got a solid serve. He’s had a good tournament here again. I have always played him when he’s playing well. I expect it to be tough. I hope I can take it to him and play up in the court and play aggressive.”
The Swiss reached the semi-finals with his best match yet in Shanghai, a straight-sets win against Kei Nishikori. Federer was hitting aggressively all match, trying to take advantage of the quick Shanghai courts.
Beat Coric and Federer will have a chance to play for his third Shanghai crown on Sunday. Coric advanced to the semi-finals by beating Aussie Matthew Ebden to make his second Masters 1000 semi-final of the season. He’ll try to re-create his Halle magic and reach his first Masters 1000 final in Shanghai.