© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Alexander Zverev celebrates winning the Nitto ATP Finals title with his dogs.

Zverev Is Flying As High As Ever; Is World No. 1 Next?

German finishes 2021 with Nitto ATP Finals title

Alexander Zverev finished his 2021 season in the best way possible Sunday evening when he claimed his second Nitto ATP Finals trophy, signalling what could be an even bigger 2022 for the German star.

The 24-year-old is flying high after defeating Daniil Medvedev in the Turin final. Zverev could now be poised to chase Novak Djokovic’s No. 1 spot in the FedEx ATP Rankings alongside Medvedev next year.

“[Things] couldn't be much better, to be honest. I'm obviously happy with how the season went. I'm happy with the finish of the season,” Zverev said. “It was obviously a great year. To capture the title here has been incredible. Give me the trophy!”

Djokovic on Monday will have a lead of nearly 3,000 points over Medvedev and nearly 4,000 points over Zverev. But with three major titles to defend in 2022 and two rising stars in top form, the Serbian will have his hands full next year.

Since the start of the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev has played the best tennis of his career, winning 32 of his 36 matches to close his season. He earned the singles gold medal in Tokyo, his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati and his second Nitto ATP Finals trophy. Of his four losses during that stretch, three have come against Djokovic (1) and Medvedev (2).

The past two days have shown that when the German is firing, there are no holes in his game. Zverev outplayed Djokovic from the baseline in Saturday’s semi-finals and out served Medvedev in Sunday’s championship clash.

The bugaboos that have caught up to Zverev in the past seem just that — a thing of the past. Over the past few years, double faults have often crept into the right-hander’s game in abundance during pressure moments.

But at this year’s Nitto ATP Finals, he played fearless tennis and won 61 per cent of his second-serve points against the best players in the world. Entering the week, he had only won 50 per cent of points behind his second delivery on the year. Zverev knew he had to play aggressively and when he did, the results showed there is little anyone could do about it.

“You go into the match knowing that you're playing one of the two best players in the world. I knew that I had to play my best tennis to beat him,” Zverev said after defeating Medvedev. “I did that today. I think I played a very good match. I'm happy with my level. I'm happy with the performance I had.”

Zverev lost a match in Turin this week, but that was in a final-set tie-break against Medvedev, who pushed Djokovic for year-end No. 1 this year before the 34-year-old clinched a record seventh year-end No. 1 finish during the Rolex Paris Masters.

But there is reason to believe next year could be an even tighter race for top spot. Medvedev lifted his first major trophy at the US Open, defeating Djokovic in the final, and Zverev has also proven fit for the biggest matches.

In the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics, he halted Djokovic’s dreams of a Golden Slam. In Turin, he faced the daunting task of playing Djokovic and Medvedev in back-to-back matches, and he passed the test with flying colours to become the fourth player in tournament history to earn semi-final and final wins over the world’s top two players. He is the first to do so since 1990.

Sunday’s victory also gave Zverev the most titles of anyone this year with six, and his 59 tour-level victories are currently best on Tour. The only thing the German has not accomplished is major glory, and the 2020 US Open finalist has his sights set on changing that next year.

“I have succeeded on every single level, and there's one thing missing,” Zverev said. “I hope I can do that next year.”

Only time will tell if Zverev or Medvedev can hunt down Djokovic for World No. 1. But their chances are looking better than ever.