ThrowbackTimes Halle: Roger Federer sinks Alexander Zverev for title No. 9

After a small excursion to Queen’s in 1999, Roger Federer decided to travel to Halle in 2000, staying there for good and becoming a trademark of this well-organized grass-court tournament in Germany for the next two decades. Roger’s first title in Halle came in 2003, and he has been the player to beat in almost every edition of this big pre-Wimbledon event, reaching the final in 14 of the last 16 appearances and lifting nine trophies overall. Between 2003-2017, Roger had failed to reach the title match in Halle only in 2016 when Alexander Zverev halted him in the semis, with the Swiss getting a chance for revenge 12 months later. In the 2017 title clash, Federer defeated Zverev 6-1, 6-3 for the ninth Halle crown, dominating from start to finish to secure the first title after 2015. It was their third meeting, with Roger scoring a win in Rome 2016 before losing here in Halle a month later. The Swiss returned stronger a year later to deliver a lopsided triumph in 53 minutes, making it one of the most one-sided finals of the season.

It was all about Federer, who played well both on serve and return to outplay the German from the baseline and at the net. Federer dropped nine points behind the initial shot, facing one break chance and stealing the thunder from Zverev’s serve to take half of the return points and break the youngster four times from eight opportunities. Roger mixed his game superbly, hitting many service winners, slices and volleys, interrupting rival’s rhythm and forcing him to play from awkward positions all the time. Alexander never found his range, making too many errors (especially in the first set) and finding it hard to impose his strokes and drive Federer off from the baseline. The German started to serve better in the second set but couldn’t dictate the points with his first groundstroke and keep the exchange away from Federer’s racquet. Serving at a high 73%, Zverev couldn’t draw much from his first stroke, as Roger returned well from both wings to take early control and have the upper hand.

Federer had a 19-14 advantage in service winners and an even bigger 17-7 gap in the winners from the field, dominating with his forehand and volleys to leave the rival far behind. Zverev hit five forehand winners, and that was pretty much all we saw from him, unable to tame his groundstroke and making too many easy errors that discouraged him even more. After ten unforced errors in the opening set, Zverev did manage to reduce the number in the second, ending on 13 while Federer stayed on nine. Also, Alexander made nine forced errors in comparison to only three from Roger, spraying 22 errors and 21 winners overall, a pale number when we consider 38 winners and 12 mistakes from the Swiss maestro! Federer delivered a better package of groundstrokes and point-construction, winning 22 out of 28 points that went beyond the fourth stroke, with a 5-0 advantage in the points with nine shots or more and a clear 17-6 lead in the mid-range exchanges between five and eight hits.

Roger Federer lost only four games against Alexander Zverev in the 2017 Halle final.

Zverev fought stronger in the quickest points up to four strokes where Federer had a 36-27 advantage, not enough for a more positive result and a game or two more on his tally. It was a perfect start for the eight-time champion, who grabbed a break at love in the opening game with two winners and two Zverev’s mistakes. Roger cemented the break with three winners in game two and secured another break for a 3-0 lead after already six unforced errors from the young gun. Four service winners pushed Roger 4-0 up after just 13 minutes, and he moved closer to a bagel after taking the opening two points of the fifth game. Zverev finally woke up and won the following four points to get his name on the scoreboard, hitting a groundstroke winner from both wings, which was very important for him if he wanted to get back in contention. Federer was sailing through his service games, though, firing three winners to open a 5-1 gap and forcing Zverev to serve to stay in the set.

That seventh game started with a drop shot winner from Roger, and Alexander added three more mistakes to lose serve for the third time and hand the set to the Swiss after only 22 minutes. The second set kicked off with Roger’s three unforced errors that caused the first and only break point to Zverev. The Swiss repelled it with three winners to safely bring the game home and gather even stronger momentum. From 30-15 down in the second game, Zverev hit a volley winner and two more from his serve for 1-1, standing on the positive side of the scoreboard for the first time in the encounter.

Roger made another easy hold in game three, and Alexander stumbled at the net in the last point, hurting his left ankle but continuing to play without medical help. Federer had a chance to open a 3-1 lead after a smash winner, denied by three service winners from Alexander, who already had more unreturned serves than in the entire first set. The Swiss held at love to move 3-2 up and seized the crucial break in the next game, forging a 4-2 advantage and having the finish line within his reach. Four winners sent Federer 5-2 in front, and he clinched the victory in the most dominant style after landing three consecutive volley winners in game nine for an absolute triumph and the ninth Halle title.

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