WASHINGTON — The outcome of the Citi Open men's final seemed assured so long before it actually arrived that the crowd at Stadium Court gave Alexander Zverev a roaring ovation when he stood to serve for the final game in the second set. They didn't see the value in waiting four more points.
Zverev, the 20-year-old German with a thick mop of hair, was undeniable in his 6-4, 6-4 defeat of South African Kevin Anderson on Sunday at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. He chased Anderson off the court in a swift 69 minutes to claim the fourth title of his remarkable 2017 and the fifth of his young career, losing just nine points on his serve during the match.
He became the youngest player to win four titles in a season on the ATP Tour since Juan Martin del Potro won the same number in 2008 and the D.C. tournament's youngest champion since del Potro claimed the title that year at 19. Wielding a preternatural command of the game in front of an appreciative crowd, he seemed to move further away from his status as a rising star of tennis's next generation and closer to plain old "star."
"Yeah, I'm next gen, but the rankings say it for themselves," Zverev said, with not quite a smirk. "I'm No. 8 in the world right now. I'm No. 4 in the race to London. I've won four tournaments this year. I think I can show I can play with the big guys already this year. I'm not an 'in the future' kind of guy. I'm trying to be right now."
Zverev came to Washington seeded fifth but never having won an ATP 500-level event, a somewhat odd gap on his resume given his titles. Earlier in the year, he won a lower-ranked indoor event on cement and two more crowns, including a momentous Master's 1000-level victory in Rome over then-No. 2 in the world Novak Djokovic, on clay.
The only final he has appeared in but didn't win in 2017 was on grass, where his opponent in Halle, Switzerland, was a guy named Roger Federer, who would go on to win Wimbledon. Zverev scraped out just four games that day.
He was no underdog Sunday.
Zverev gained control of the match after breaking Anderson's serve early in both sets, which is no easy thing against a 6-foot-8 opponent. Anderson had ousted top-seeded Dominic Thiem in the third round Thursday with his same dominant serve but found himself playing catch-up instead on Sunday — and looking very much his age, 31, compared with the 20-year-old.
"It didn't feel like he gave me a whole lot," said Anderson, the No. 15 seed.
Playing well enough to reach a final, his first since 2015, was a feat in itself for the South African. Ranked No. 45 in the world, Anderson is still getting his career back on track after a host of injuries derailed him in early 2016.
But for Zverev, nothing but the title would have sufficed. The German dubbed Washington his favorite American city after his victory — the crowd lavished him with applause for that — and he was set to fly to Montreal on Sunday night to prepare for a tournament that starts Monday as the path to the U.S. Open winds on.
In his head, Zverev is close to translating his success on the ATP Tour to success in the Grand Slams that have been nearly uncrackable save for four special players for nearly all of Zverev's life.
"I feel good where I am right now," he said. "I obviously want to improve right now as fast and as much as I can until I'm at the top of the game. That's what I'm trying to do. . . . I want to keep doing the hard work, keep improving.
"I think I'm very close. I've lost in five-set matches, this year in grand slams, to [Rafael] Nadal. . . . Winning these kind of matches is going to be important in Grand Slams, and to get far in those kind of events is obviously my next step, my next goal."
Makarova is women's champ: In the women's final, the Citi Open featured a bit of the reverse. The well-established doubles champion Ekaterina Makarova, who won the 2013 French Open, 2014 U.S. Open, 2016 Rio Olympics and this year's Wimbledon with her partner and fellow Russian Elena Vesnina, captured her third career singles title on Sunday.
Makarova beat the fourth-seeded Julia Goerges, from Germany, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-0, in her third consecutive match in which she lost the first set.
"I don't know, actually, how I won this tournament," Makarova said, smiling and still clearly dazed from the win. "I was starting every time so slow and not as aggressive as my game. … At this tournament, I was very good in my head. I didn't give up."
The lanky Russian lefty arrived in Washington coming off a doubles championship at Wimbledon that took her and Vesnina just 53 minutes to beat Taiwan's Chan Hao-Ching and Romani's Monica Niculescu 6-0, 6-0, the first "double bagel" in the women's doubles final at Wimbledon since 1953.
Still, Makarova's priority is rebuilding her singles career. She spent much of 2015 in the top 10 but is currently No. 58 and at 29-years-old, focusing on getting her singles back in top shape. Washington was her first singles final since 2014, when she won a tournament in Thailand. She hopes it's a harbinger of things to come.