Alexander Zverev. Picture: REUTERS
Alexander Zverev. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — Alexander Zverev says defending his ATP Washington Open title on Sunday shows growth in strength and maturity, but the world No3 still sees a big gap between him and the top duo of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

The 21-year-old German won his third title of 2018 and the ninth of his career by defeating Australian teen Alex de Minaur 6-2 6-4 in the 50th edition of the event.

"What a fantastic week for me," Zverev said. "Winning a tournament on its 50th anniversary is something amazing.

"[Defending a title] feels great and shows mental strength as well. It shows a little maturity."

While Zverev stands atop a generation of rising young stars, he still puts 20-time Grand Slam winner Federer, 36, and 17-time Grand Slam champion Nadal, 32, on the highest of pedestals.

"Roger and Rafa are still the best out there and still competing for Grand Slam titles," he said. "I haven’t won a Grand Slam title. Saying I’m on their level wouldn’t be fair to them."

Not since 20-year-old Rafael Nadal beat 19-year-old Novak Djokovic 11 years ago at Indian Wells had the combined ages of Association of Tennis Professionals finalists been so young. And not since 1995 in Buenos Aires had all four semifinalists been 21 or under, Zverev being the eldest.

"It’s not only me that’s the future of the sport. Everybody who made it to the semifinals is the future," Zverev said. "We all want to be the best. Some of us already think we’re the best. We all have a lot of talent."

He struggled when asked where his game needs work, saying with a smile, "I think I’m close to perfection."

Zverev joined a list of back-to-back champions including André Agassi, Michael Chang and Juan Martín del Potro.

In the companion Women’s Tennis Association event final, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova saved four match points to defeat Croatia’s Donna Vekic 4-6 7-6 (9/7) 6-2 for her 18th career title.

It was her first crown since 2016 in Moscow.