Rivalries Of 2021: Djokovic vs. Zverev


Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPTour.com revisits the fiercest rivalries of 2021. Today we feature Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev.

Prior to the 2021 season, Alexander Zverev had not beaten Novak Djokovic since 2018, when the German triumphed over the World No. 1 in the championship match at the Nitto ATP Finals.

However, that changed this year, with Zverev claiming significant victories over Djokovic, causing the Serbian problems with his big serving and heavy hitting as the pair went toe-to-toe in the latter stages of the biggest tour-level hard-court events.

ATP Cup, Round Robin, Djokovic d. Zverev 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5
The season started with a bang for Djokovic and Zverev as they met in the round-robin stage at the ATP Cup in their first event of the year.

Serbia headed into the clash trailing Germany 0-1 in the tie after Jan-Lennard Struff beat Dusan Lajovic. In an entertaining match, Djokovic levelled the tie. In a close first set, neither faced a break point, with Zverev clinching it in a tie-break. However, Djokovic gained a foothold in the match as he adjusted his return position to great effect, taking a step back as he broke twice in the second set to level.

The 34-year-old then closed out the match and earned his 11th consecutive ATP Cup victory after breaking in the 11th game of the third set when Zverev struck two double faults.

“It was a great match,” Djokovic said. “I thought Sascha was serving terrific, both singles and doubles today. He was a set up… I just returned well when I needed to and closed out the match.

“He was serving tremendously well, big second serves. It’s never easy playing against Sascha when he’s in form, and he’s in really good form. We pushed each other to the very limit, and I’m glad that I had such a battle with him.”

Australian Open, QF, Djokovic d. Zverev 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6)
The pair met again just 11 days later in Melbourne inside Rod Laver Arena, with Zverev seeking revenge. However, Djokovic found his top form as history repeated itself, with the German falling to the World No. 1 after claiming the opening set in a tie-break.

Djokovic entered the match having battled past Taylor Fritz in five sets and Milos Raonic in four sets. However, the top seed showed no signs of fatigue as he raised his level in the crucial moments, saving nine of 12 break points, including a set point at 5-6 in the fourth set.

The Serbian forced Zverev behind the baseline with deep returns and cut down on his unforced errors as the match progressed, showing greater consistency from the baseline to secure his second victory of the season against the German.

“Down to the very last shot, it was anybody’s game, anybody’s match,” Djokovic said. “[There were] a lot of nerves out there, a lot of pressure. Emotionally, [I] feel a little drained, honestly. It was a great battle.”

Tokyo Olympics, SF, Zverev d. Djokovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-1
Having won the first three majors of the season at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Djokovic’s pursuit of the Golden Slam was in top gear ahead of their clash at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Serbian had won his past 22 matches and looked well on course to make it 23 as he led by a set and a break. But Zverev did not read the script as he hit with power and depth to rally back and advance, snapping his five-match losing streak against the World No. 1.

Zverev was stronger on return than in their meeting at the Australian Open, winning 59 per cent (16/27) of points on Djokovic’s second serve as he stepped inside the baseline to dictate with his powerful groundstrokes from the first shot in the rally.

“It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I’m very happy right now,” Zverev said. “I know that he was chasing history, chasing the Golden Slam and was chasing the Olympics, but in these kind of moments me and Novak are very close. Of course I’m happy that I’ve won, but at the end of the day I know how Novak feels.”

The World No. 3 then defeated Karen Khachanov in the final to become the first German man to win an Olympic singles gold medal.

Zverev/Djokovic
Photo Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

US Open, SF, Djokovic d. Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
With more history on the line, Djokovic gained his revenge against Zverev in a five-set classic at the US Open to move to within one win of capturing the Grand Slam.

Zverev had dropped just one set en route to the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows, while Djokovic needed four sets to overcome Holger Rune, Kei Nishikori, Jenson Brooksby and Matteo Berrettini as he struggled to find top form in New York.

In an intense match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic remained calmer in the key moments, breaking twice in the decider. He served impressively under pressure to emerge victorious as he stopped Zverev from reaching his second final in New York

“Alexander is a big champion,” Djokovic said. “He’s someone that I admire on and off the court. We get along very well; he’s definitely one of my best friends. We train a lot, we see each other a lot in Monaco, [which] he uses as a base. He’s a great guy and an even better player. I knew coming onto the court today that it was going to be a great battle.”

Nitto ATP Finals, SF, Zverev d. Djokovic 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3

In the penultimate match of the ATP Tour season, Zverev had the final say in his epic 2021 rivalry with Djokovic. In front of a lively crowd at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, the 24-year-old fired 35 winners and saved a set point in the first set to down Djokovic and reach the championship match at the Nitto ATP Finals.

Zverev, who went on to win the title, ended Djokovic’s bid for a sixth season finale crown, which would have tied the 34-year-old with record-holder Roger Federer.

The German played with patience, power and precision against Djokovic, who struggled behind his second serve. The top seed won just 41 per cent of second-serve points in the match compared to Zverev, who won 63 per cent.

“Every time we play it takes hours,” Zverev said in his on-court interview. “I have not spent more time on court with anybody other than him this year. I am happy with the win.”

Djokovic vs. Zverev In 2021

Event

Surface

Round

Winner

Score

ATP Cup

Hard

Round Robin

Djokovic

6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5

Australian Open

Hard

QF

Djokovic 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6)

Tokyo Olympics

Hard              SF Zverev 1-6, 6-3, 6-1
US Open              Hard              SF Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
Nitto ATP Finals           

Hard

SF

Zverev 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3



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