Metronome Medvedev counters Zverev to win 1st Paris Masters

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Russia’s Daniil Medvedev smashes the ball to Germany’s Alexander Zverev during the Paris Masters tennis tournament final, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Once Daniil Medvedev found a way to counter Alexander Zverev’s huge serve, his metronome-like rhythm clicked in and he counterattacked clinically to win the Paris Masters for the first time.

Medvedev’s 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory Sunday gave him his eighth career title and third at a Masters event.

“I managed to stay really strong, be there all the time,” the third-seeded Russian said. “Putting pressure on him all the time, raising my level step by step, and finally he broke.”

Medvedev’s style of play is unspectacular — and not “wild” as Zverev put it afterward.

But what he does well is relentlessly chip away with flat, uneeringly accurate strokes, punctuated by sudden accelerations of speed and whipped, fizzing forehands that always seem to land just in. Zverev, like many others before him, soon became exasperated and momentum quickly shifted.

“I’m really trying to make my opponent crazy,” Medvedev said with a wry smile in his post-match interview.

It was just his second win against the fourth-seeded Zverev in seven matches. His previous victory against the imposing German was also in a Masters final last year in Shanghai.

“I think it’s not easy for guys to play against me when I play like this,” Medvedev said. “Of course it’s tough to compare with the Shanghai final, where I was on top of him all of the match. Here it was a really tight match where both could be the winners.”

It was Medvedev’s first final and title of the year, while Zverev was playing in his third straight final after winning back-to-back tournaments in Cologne, Germany.

Before leaving court, Zverev wanted to make one final comment.

“Lastly,” he said, “A lot of people are trying to wipe a smile off my face … I’m still smiling under this mask.”

Zverev did not elaborate when asked to specify what he meant in his post-match news conference.

“I mean, just a lot of,” Zverev started to say, before reaching for his cell phone ringing in his pocket. “For a professional athlete there are always going to be people who try to wipe the smile off your face. So they can keep trying. I’m still smiling.”

During the tournament Zverev again denied accusations of domestic abuse made by a former girlfriend Olga Sharypova, who said the German tennis player tried to strangle her with a pillow before last year’s U.S. Open.

The contest between first-time finalists here and the last two U.S. Open runners-up went with serve — and with no break points — until Zverev broke Medvedev in the 12th game to take the opening set.

When Medvedev hit a forehand long on that point, Zverev let out a loud roar that pierced the silence at a Bercy Arena left empty by the coronavirus pandemic.

“After the first set I didn’t know actually what to do, because I had zero break points,” Medvedev said. “I didn’t feel good returning his serve.”

Medvedev’s machine-like accuracy from the baseline induced a loose shot from Zverev in the ninth game of the second set when he hit long from the back of the court. Medvedev’s pinpoint returning is among the best on the ATP Tour, and affected Zverev’s confidence as he won only 57% of points on first serve compared to 75% for Medvedev.

Medvedev clinched the second set with his 13th ace, then took control when Zverev padded a weak forehand into the net and was broken to love. After Zverev missed four break-point chances in the next game, he was punished when Medvedev broke for a 3-0 lead.

“At the end of the second set I was tired. I was dead. The third set was always going to be very difficult for me,” Zverev said. “Once you get a little bit tired against him, he wears you down. He wears you down even more. He makes you run, he makes you move.”

Medvedev clinched the victory on his second match point when Zverev double-faulted for the third time in the match.

They could meet again at the season-ending ATP Finals in London from Nov. 15-22.

“I’m happy with my tennis,” Zverev said. “I just need to maybe recover a little bit.”

Last year in London, Medvedev led Rafael Nadal 5-1 in the final set with the Russian having a match point. But a third-set meltdown ended in a tormenting defeat which taught him a lot.

“I knew I had to leave it behind. Just learn from it and learn how, if you’re up 5-1 and you lose even your serve on 5-2, you should not go crazy because you are still up,” the 24-year-old Medvedev said. “I have been working on my mental strength for a long time.”

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