ATP Finals: Zverev beats Isner to make last four
The 21-year-old edged a tight opening set before breaking in the eighth game of the second to close in on his second victory in the Gustavo Kuerten group and move on to a semi-final clash against six-times champion Roger Federer.
His victory means the day’s second singles between group winner Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic is academic — apart from ranking points and the $200,000 on offer for each round-robin win at the year-ending showpiece.
Zverev became the first German in the semi-finals of the event since Rainer Schuettler lost in the last four to Andre Agassi in 2003 in Houston.
World number 10 Isner still harboured hopes of reaching the semi-finals despite losing his first two matches; a straight sets victory and a win for Djokovic later would have seen him scrape into the weekend.
When he levelled the first-set tiebreak at 5-5 with a thunderous forehand return it still looked possible, but Zverev responded with a superbly improvised pass on the next point before Isner dumped a forehand into the net.
Despite his hopes having gone, Isner stuck to his task in the second set but Zverev, still needing the victory to make sure of his semi-final berth, powered to his 56th win of the year.
“I’m unbelievably happy to be in the semifinals in the last tournament of the year,” said Zverev. “John is such a tough opponent, the first set was unbelievably tight so I’m just happy to be through.
“We’ve had so many tight matches, this is only the second time we’ve played two sets, so it’s always a tight affair.
“Maybe I know in those important moments what he’s trying to do. But I came up with some great shots in the tiebreak as well.
I’ve played Federer many times in my short career and he’s leading by one so I hope I can change that. It will be a very tough match.”
Zverev, the leader of the next generation of players expected to dominate the game in years to come, is the youngest semifinalist at the tournament since Juan Martin del Potro reached the final in London in 2009.
Regardless of what happens in the day’s second singles match, Djokovic will play South Africa’s Kevin Anderson in the other semifinal on Saturday.