But on Thursday night in his final match in the Boris Becker group at the ATP Finals, the German was a picture of angst when he should have been pulsating purpose and potency on one of the most prestigious stages in world tennis against the unheralded Jack Sock.
The American won 6-4 1-6 6-4 to advance to the semi-final on his first appearance. “I choked,” conceded Zverev, who was also making his debut at the eight man tournament. “It’s that simple. I won the second set 6-1 and I was 1-0 up in the decider with a break and he had been given a penalty point. Ten minutes later he was leading 4-1 because I didn’t put many balls in the court.”
When he did manage to recover his consistency, Zverev worked his way back into contention. He broke Sock to make it 4-3 and levelled at 4-4. More than 13,000 spectators at the 02 Arena in south-east London roared their approval as the momentum shifted again.
Sock stopped the roll to go 5-4 ahead. And Zverev faltered when he tried to seek parity at 5-5.
“At 4-5 down, that was one of the worst games I think I played all year. So, yeah, I just choked. The match was OK tennis wise but nerves got in the way and got the better of me.”
He added: “The results at the end of the year have been rubbish for me. If I’d played like that all year, I wouldn’t have been in the top 50. It’s unfortunate for me but I’m going to go on holiday, come back and start working for the next season.”
Following his three set victory over him on Tuesday, Federer described Zverev as the full package. He added: "Whether he makes the semi-finals or not in London, he is going to leave the ATP Finals with a lot of information because the last six months of the season have given him everything he needs to work on and he’s only going to get stronger from here so that’s encouraging for him and his team.”
While Zverev can satisfy his Wanderlust and wonder wistfully at what could have been, Sock will stay in London to play a semi-final on Saturday against the sixth seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. On Friday, the 26-year-old will take on the Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in their final match in the Pete Sampras group.
Carreno Busta – who stepped in when top seed Rafael Nadal withdrew due to injury on Monday night – lost his match on Wednesday to Dominic Thiem.
On Friday, the Austrian takes on David Goffin. The victor will advance to a semi-final showdown with Federer, who is seeking a seventh title.