Federer's century bid falls short as Zverev sets up Djoker decider

Roger Federer will end the year tantalisingly short of his 100th career title after the king of men's tennis was forced to bow to young prince Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals.

The 37-year-old Federer, whose 99 titles are second only to the 109 of Jimmy Connors, began Saturday's first semi-final as favourite, but it was German Zverev who revelled in the big match atmosphere at a packed O2 Arena to win 7-5, 7-6 (7-5).

Vanquished: Roger Federer waves to fans following his semi-final defeat.

Vanquished: Roger Federer waves to fans following his semi-final defeat.Credit:AP

On Sunday, the 21-year-old will chase the biggest title of his fledgling career when he takes on world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who produced a masterful display to outclass South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2 in the later semi-final.

Zverev is the first German to reach the final of the season-ender since Boris Becker lost to Pete Sampras in 1996.

Federer began the year by claiming a record-extending 20th grand slam title in Australia and while he won three other tournaments this year, his season ended in frustrating fashion.

"Sampras once upon a time said, if you win a slam, it's a good season," Federer told reporters.

"The second half of the season could have been better maybe. I'm happy I gave myself opportunities again in that second half of the season. I maybe lost a couple too many close matches that could have changed things around for me a little bit."

Federer was referring to his Wimbledon quarter-final defeat by Kevin Anderson when he led by two sets and had a match point.

Federer said he would sit down with his coaching team and come up with a schedule for 2019 and had not ruled out returning to the European claycourt swing he sat out this year.

"Definitely the plan is to play again next year, and come up with a good schedule that suits my family, suits (my wife) Mirka," he said. "That's why it's good that we have time now.

"Looking forward to that process. I like taking decisions, so it's all good.

"I must tell you I'm very proud that at 37 I'm still so competitive and so happy playing tennis. From that standpoint, as disappointed as I might be about this match, if I take a step back, I'm actually very happy about the season."

Newblood: Zverev is considered an heir apparent in the men's game.

Newblood: Zverev is considered an heir apparent in the men’s game.Credit:AP

Saturday's clash between the Swiss master and the tousle-haired youngster tipped to lead the sport into a brave new era once the holy trinity of Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal depart the stage, did not disappoint.

After 11 games without so much as a break point, it was Federer who surprisingly blinked first.

Zverev curled a superb running forehand pass down the line to get to 0-30 on the Federer serve and was then gifted two points and the set as the second seed's forehand malfunctioned.

Federer was not about to be ushered off one of his favourite stages without a fight though and a rapier-like backhand pass gave him the early break in the second set, only for Zverev to hit back immediately to cancel out the advantage.

The German, winner of more matches than any other player on Tour this year, had his opponent in trouble when Federer served at 3-4, but the Swiss reeled off four points to stay on level terms in the set.

Chants of "Let's Go Roger, Let's Go" reverberated around the darkened arena as the second-set tiebreak began and there were boos as Zverev stopped a rally when trailing 3-4 because a ballboy had dropped a ball.

There were then gasps of despair from the Federer diehards when their man got a little too delicate with an attempted drop volley at 4-5 to hand Zverev two match points.

Federer saved one but Zverev would not be denied, belting away a backhand drive volley to end the contest.

In the later match, Djokovic was immaculate from start to finish against the 32-year-old Anderson as he put himself within touching distance of a record-equalling sixth title at this event.

He found his range immediately and the writing was on the wall for Anderson when he dropped serve in the opening game.

Should he win against the 21-year-old Zverev, who he beat convincingly in the round-robin stage here, the 31-year-old Djokovic will become the oldest player to claim the title.

Reuters

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