Roger Federer has sprung to Alexander Zverev’s defence after some of the Swiss great’s diehard fans booed the young German after his superb victory in the last four of the ATP Finals on Saturday.
Zverev, 21, won fair and square 7-5 7-6 (7-5) to claim a third victory in six meetings with Federer, but the semi-final ended in uproar after a controversial second set tiebreak.
Federer was leading 4-3 when Zverev stopped mid-rally after a ball slipped from a ball boy’s hand and into his line of vision. When the point was replayed, Zverev served an ace.
A few points later Zverev finished off the 37-year-old with a nerveless volley, but his on-court interview was drowned out by a cacophony of boos and heckling from fans who believed the German had gained an unfair advantage.
“Look, I understand the frustration. It’s just unfortunate circumstances,” 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer told reporters.
“Booing, I never like it. We see it in other sports all the time, but in tennis it’s rare.
“So when it happens, it gets very personal and we take it very direct. I think it’s unfortunate that this happened. Sascha doesn’t deserve it.
“He apologised to me at the net. I was like, ‘buddy, shut up! You don’t need to apologise to me here. Congratulations on a great match and a great tournament so far.’
“He didn’t do anything about it. He just called it how it was. He felt it affected play. There is a rule that if something like this happens, obviously you replay points.”
Federer said he had asked the ball boy whether or not he had dropped the ball.
“He said, ‘Yes, I did drop the ball.’ From that standpoint, it’s okay, no problem, that happens. It’s all good. I hope he doesn’t have a sleepless night. It’s not a big deal at the end of the day. This is life, this is sport. Definitely not mad at him. It’s all good,” he added.
Zverev said the boos from the Fed-Heads in the crowd had shaken him up.
“I was a little bit sad at the end with the booing and reaction of the crowd,” he said.
“I was very emotional afterwards. The booing went into cheering kind of afterwards, which kind of helped me.
“I was really upset afterwards in the locker room, I’m not going to lie. I had to take a few minutes for myself.
“But, you know, I hope the crowd and the people who were booing maybe look at what actually happened, maybe just realise that I’ve maybe not done anything wrong.”
Zverev stuns Federer in ATP Finals semis
Roger Federer will end the year tantalisingly short of his 100th career title after the king of men’s tennis was forced to bow to young prince Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals.
The 37-year-old Federer, whose 99 titles are second only to the 109 of Jimmy Connors, began Saturday’s first semi-final as favourite but it was German Zverev who revelled in the big match atmosphere at a packed O2 Arena to win 7-5 7-6 (7-5).
On Sunday, the 21-year-old will chase the biggest title of his fledgling career when he takes on either world No.1 Novak Djokovic or South Africa’s Kevin Anderson.
Zverev is the first German to reach the final of the season-ender since Boris Becker lost to Pete Sampras in 1996.
Saturday’s clash between the Swiss winner of 20 Grand Slam titles and the tousle-haired youngster tipped to lead the sport into a brave new era once the holy trinity of Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal depart the stage, did not disappoint.
After 11 games without so much as a break point, it was Federer who surprisingly blinked first.
Zverev curled a superb running forehand pass down the line to get to 0-30 on the Federer serve and was then gifted two points and the set as the second seed’s forehand malfunctioned.
Federer was not about to be ushered off one of his favourite stages without a fight though and a rapier-like backhand pass gave him the early break in the second set, only for Zverev to hit back immediately to cancel out the advantage.
The German, winner of more matches than any other player on tour this year, had his opponent in trouble when Federer served at 3-4 but the Swiss reeled off four points to stay on level terms in the set.
Chants of “Let’s Go Roger, Let’s Go” reverberated around the darkened arena as the second-set tiebreak began and there were boos as Zverev stopped a rally when trailing 3-4 because a ballboy had dropped a ball.
There were then gasps of despair from the Federer diehards when their man got a little too delicate with an attempted drop volley at 4-5 to hand Zverev two match points.
Federer saved one but Zverev would not be denied, belting away a backhand drive volley to end the contest.