The 36-year-old Swiss guaranteed himself a place in the last four of the Nitto ATP Finals at the 02 Arena when he saw off an initially vigorous challenge from Germany‘s Alex Zverev, who finally showed a British crowd what all the fuss is about.
The 20-year-old German forced a set point in the opener before fading and losing 7-6, 5-7, 6-1 to the world No 2, who remains standing while the other superstars have fallen around him.
While this has been an event shorn of some of the biggest names the quality of the matches has, so far, been better than in many recent years, and last night was no disappointment either.
Zverev, still coltish and with tousled hair, has yet to make his Grand Slam breakthrough but he hits the ball early hard and had the perfectly polished veteran flustered. Some of the packed assembly by the Thames even forgot their usual loyalty to Federer as they warmed to him.
Were it not for the odd bit of youthful petulance at key moments Zverev could have won this. He saved two set points at 5-6 and then led 4-0 in the tiebreak, missing a forehand at 6-5 that would have given him the set, before losing it 8-6.
Federer’s form dipped towards the end of second set and the German’s less steady forehand side held up sufficiently to take advantage by breaking at the end of it.
Yet Federer’s superior courtcraft was always likely to prevail, and the forehand let his opponent down in the decider. It would not be a huge surprise, however, if they were to meet again in Sunday’s final.
Germany’s Zverev can still qualify for the semi-finals on his debut appearance at the O2 Arena
Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks (left) and Boris Becker at O2 Arena on Tuesday night
‘What I like about Zverev is he’s got the full package,’ Federer said.
‘He’s already three in the world. I think he’s going to leave the World Tour Finals, regardless if he qualifies for the semis or not, with a lot of information.
‘I think the last six months of the season gave him everything he needs to work forward to. Then, of course, he’s only going to get stronger from here. That should be very encouraging for him and his team.’
Zverev will now play American Jack Sock for second place in the Boris Becker Group after the American — who revealed the fire alarm that disrupted Nadal and Dominc Thiem at an ungodly hour — upset Marin Cilic 5-7, 6-2, 7-6, thus eliminating the Croatian.