The plot thickened on Wednesday in the race for a semi-final place at the ATP Finals as Alexander Zverev earned his first group victory 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 over Diego Schwartzman
Both men came to the court with defeats in their first round-robin matches on Monday in London in a year-end wrapup being played in an empty stadium due to COVID-19 quarantine.
The outcome now leaves Novak Djokovic to determine his own fate in the day’s second contest later. Should the ATP No. 1 defeat Daniil Medvedev, he would be well on the way to the final four,
He and Zverev will then meet in Friday’s last of the round-robin matches.
Djokovic will be trying to reach the semis for the ninth time in 13 Finals appearances.
Zverev, who won the year-end title here in 2018 over Djokovic, came to the court with several distractions, including an alarmingly ineffective second serve.
The German is also embroiled in a “he said, she said” drama with a former tennis player girlfriend who has accused him of domestic abuse; Zverev has said the accusations are baseless.
“I played much better than Monday, Diego is a difficult player, he deserves to be here,” the winner said.
“It was not an easy match so I’m happy to get the win, I said at the start of the week that I hoped to improve in every match and that’s what I’m doing.
“I’m excited for Friday. I’ve played Novak twice here (and beat him in the 2018 final).”
Zverev and Schwartzman traded early breaks of serve in the first set before the 22-year-old US Open finalist took the opener after 40 minutes.
Schwartzman mounted a fightback as he trailed a set and a break, denying Zverev a double break of serve and eventually squaring the match in a dogged effort.
Zverev regained control in the third set, breaking for 3-2 and finishing off on his first match point after two and a quarter hours. Schwartzman had won 15 of 20 matches since a first-round US Open defeat in August.
Zverv is taking nothing for granted as he continues the fight to make it to the weekend.
“I had a small injury from Paris (Masters) and I needed time to recover and get back to rhythm,” he said. “I hope to play even better on Friday.
“I’m treating this just like a regular tournament – I need to win every match. Today I went out and did my job.”