The 21-year-old Alexander Zverev arrived at the ATP Finals in London determined to make a step further than in 2017 and pass the round robin stage on his second appearance at the elite ATP event. By far the youngest player in the draw scored two important wins over Marin Cilic and John Isner to secure the place in the semi-final despite a tough loss against Novak Djokovic.
Thus, Alexander has become the first German in the semi-final of this tournament since Reiner Schuettler in 2003 and also the youngest player who hit the last four in nine years, with Juan Martin del Potro competing in the semis in 2009! Competing in his last tournament as the U21 player, Zverev has become only the 25th player of this age group since the introduction of the semi-final stage at the ATP Finals in 1971 who reached the semi-final and only the fifth since 2004 after Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and already mentioned del Potro! Reaching the ATP Finals at first place requires some special set of skills from a player and it is especially tough for the youngsters to break inside the Top 10 and secure the place at the elite event.
In addition, it was almost as tough to advance into the semis and there were only five teenagers who managed to do that, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Andrei Medvedev (25 years ago). The list with the U21 players is a lot bigger and it all started with Jimmy Connors in 1972 and 1973, followed by Raul Ramirez, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who are the remaining players who did that during the 70's.
Europe had taken charge during the golden 80's and we could trace Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg who all played in the semi-final of the ATP Finals as the U21 players multiple times, with Becker being the youngest semi-finalist in the history of the tournament at the age of 18 in January 1986! Some amazing players have been born between 1970-71 and four of those had reached the semi-final as the U21 stars between 1990-92, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Goran Ivanisevic.
In 1993, Andrei Medvedev had become the last teenager in the semi-final of the ATP Finals and the rest of the decade was not that good for the upcoming stars, with only Thomas Enqvist and Carlos Moya entering the top four at the age of 21.
That all changed with the new young force coming in the late 90's, all born in the first couple of years in the 80'sm and no less than five of them had played in the semi-final at the ATP Finals between 2000-2003, Marat Safin, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.
In 2006, Rafael Nadal advanced into the semis and repeated that a year later to become the last U21 player who reached the semi-final at the ATP Finals twice. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray did that in 2008 and Juan Martin del Potro followed them a year later to complete a circle of players born in the second half of the 80's and become the ninth player born in that decade who accomplished the feat.
In fact, between 1972-2009 we never had a period longer than two years without the U21 players in the semi-final of the ATP Finals (1998 and 1999) but the dark clouds for the upcoming stars were gathering just around the corner, with poor years that saw no player coming even close to the place at this tournament, not to mention reaching the semis.
For eight years, the semi-final spots were reserved for the competitors who already passed the U21 age group and Alexander Zverev has become the first to break the spell and secure his place among the last four at the age of 21, playing his last tournament before leaving this group.
U21 players in the semi-final of the ATP Finals since 1972:
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