© Thomas Lovelock/ATP World Tour

Zverev Battles Back To Claim London Debut

Zverev battles back from down a break in the third set against the Croatian

 Alexander Zverev was made to work, but the German earned his first victory at the Nitto ATP Finals. Making his debut in London, Zverev overcame a stern test from Marin Cilic 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, moving to the top of Group Boris Becker alongside Roger Federer.

"I felt a little bit nervous coming out for the first time here. I think that's normal for anyone that is playing here for the first time," Zverev admitted. "I'm very happy to get my first win in this group."

The World No. 3 rallied from a break down in the deciding set to overcome Cilic, extending his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead to 4-1. He has won four straight encounters since dropping their first meeting two years ago.

Zverev improved to an impressive 18-8 in deciding sets this year, scoring a personal best 55th match victory overall in 2017. At 20 years of age, the six-time ATP World Tour titlist is the youngest to qualify for the season finale since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008.

Zverev was an indomitable force as proceedings got underway on Sunday evening. He would rifle 12 winners, to Cilic's three, in the opening set, including five off his backhand wing. The #NextGenATP was not intimidated by the bright lights and raucous atmosphere in his debut match at the season finale, breaking Cilic immediately with a brilliant drop volley winner.

The German would maintain his advantage behind an aggressive display from the baseline. Zverev saved a break point two games later and kept Cilic at bay throughout the rest of the 44-minute opener. But the big-hitting Croatian would not go quietly and a change of tactics proved to be the difference in the second set. Injecting a change of pace and variety off the ground, he steadily peppered his opponent's forehand, which began to leak errors. Cilic pounced on his third break chance of the second set and would consolidate for 3-0, before forcing a decider in emphatic fashion.

The Jonas Bjorkman pupil would strengthen his grip on the match with a break for 2-1 in the third set, but there would be one last plot twist in store. Zverev remained within striking distance and eventually drew level with a break back for 4-all, before breaking to love for the match with a backhand winner and smash at the net.

Zverev emerged victorious after two hours and five minutes, firing 31 winners in total, including nine off his serve. Despite striking 41 unforced errors, the German came up clutch in the big moments to notch his first victory at the Nitto ATP Finals.

"I think he played well," Cilic said. "He was good at the beginning, then that middle patch of the match, I was better there. He was struggling a lot to find the way to, you know, get back into the match. But great for him. He got the win. That's obviously most important here."

The third seed is the fifth German to compete in the season finale, having joined an elite list that includes Boris Becker, Nicolas Kiefer, Rainer Schuettler and Michael Stich. Cilic, meanwhile, is making his third appearance in four years at The O2, falling to a 1-6 record.

Zverev will next face Roger Federer in Tuesday's night session, with the winner taking firm control of the group. They have met four times in total, including twice this year, with the FedEx ATP Head2Head knotted at two apiece. Federer prevailed in the final at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle in June, while Zverev exacted revenge in the Coupe Rogers final in Montreal.

"I think anyone beating Federer in this group has a good chance of passing. But he's the favourite definitely in all of the matches he plays," Zverev said. "I played him a few times this year now. I played him three times, if you count the Hopman Cup match we played. Obviously, all of them were great matches. Hopefully it can be another one."


 
More stories like this in: