The third seed defeated Federer 7-5, 7-6(5) to follow in the footsteps of his countryman, Boris Becker, the three-time former titlist, who lost to Pete Sampras in a classic final 22 years ago, when the tournament was held in Hannover.
Federer, who is 16 years old than 21-year-old Zverev, had been pursuing the 100th title of his illustrious career this week and now drops to 10-5 in semi-finals at the season finale, which he first won in 2003 when the tournament was played in Houston.
Zverev will now prepare to play top-seeded Serbian and five-time former titlist Novak Djokovic or fourth seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa. The pair plays the second semi-final during Saturday’s night session at The O2, the world’s busiest music and entertainment venue.
Zverev, who went 2-1 in group play this week, extended his ATP World Tour-best match wins record to 57 for a place in the biggest final of his career. He lifted his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy in May at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Thiem) and also at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. (d. De Minaur) and at the BMW Open by FWU in Munich (d. Kohlschreiber).
In a first set of small margins, but a high-quality opening, neither player gave away any opportunity on serve in the first set until the 12th game, when consistent and deep returns from Zverev saw him break Federer to love to complete the 40-minute opener.
Federer regrouped immediately and fired a backhand winner off Zverev’s serve at 30/40 in the third game. The lead was short-lived as Zverev’s groundstrokes kept Federer behind the baseline in long rallies and the German recovered to 2-2. By virtue of serving first in the set, in addition to his court positioning, Zverev put the pressure on Federer, who dropped to 0/30 at 3-4, but was able to recover the game.
In a tie-break, a fitting end to another competitive set, Federer increased his groundstroke power and continued to mix up his net approaches to keep Zverev on his toes. At 4/5, Federer attacked the net, but dropped his racquet and struck a forehand volley into the net to gift Zverev two match points. Federer saved the first point with a big forehand approach and volley winner, but Zverev closed out at 6/5 with a drive volley backhand winner. The pair’s sixth FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting lasted one hour and 35 minutes.
Federer, a 16-time qualifier at the Nitto ATP Finals, who beat Zverev 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-1 in the round-robin stages last year, ends his 2018 campaign with a 48-10 match record, including four titles from seven finals.AGENCIES