SYDNEY, January 13, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
When Novak Djokovic won his ninth consecutive match on hard courts against Rafael Nadal in a pivotal singles rubber between Serbia and Spain at the ATP Cup final Sunday night, he continued the mastery he’s enjoyed over the World No. 1 by winning 19 consecutive sets going back to the 2013 US Open final.
Djokovic’s 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over Nadal inside a packed and loud Ken Rosewall Arena leveled the the inaugural ATP Cup final at 1-1 and overturned the momentum Spain had established when Roberto Bautista Agut gave his country a 1-0 lead following his 7-5, 6-1 win over Dusan Lajovic in the opening rubber. Djokovic extended his ATP Cup singles unbeaten streak to six and improved his career head-to-head record against Nadal to 29-26.
It also meant the first ATP Cup would come down to a winner-take-all live doubles rubber that would decide which country would take home the title.
Looking back, Djokovic dominated Nadal from the beginning of their one hour and 55 minute match. He put the Spaniard on the defensive, both with his returns and during some prolonged and grueling rallies. After Djokovic broke Nadal in the opening game and later in the seventh game of the first set, he hit four consecutive aces to close out the first set. Djokovic maintained his level of intensity in the second set – he would finish with 12 aces and win 84 percent (41 of 49) of his first-serve points – and forced Nadal into a defensive posture that took the Spaniard out of his comfort zone. As Djokovic later recalled, “I started the match perfectly with everything working for me.
“I was trying to take away as much time as possible from him. I was serving very well, definitely the best serving match I had in the tournament. Just extremely satisfied with the way I performed.”
Djokovic outpointed Nadal 75-59 and saved five of five break points.
Nadal was matter of fact in his assessment: “Happy the way that I was able to compete. I had my chances. I was very close. Not happy with the loss, of course, but the feeling in that second set is positive.”
Now, with plenty of flag-waving fans repping both countries and with the arena’s namesake, Australian Hall of Famer Ken Rosewall in attendance, it was game on for the champion’s trophy.
While Spain opted not to play Nadal in doubles because he had run out of energy, Djokovic still had something left in the tank to offer Serbia. He was in Serbia’s the doubles lineup, where he teamed with his longtime friend and teammate Viktor Troicki. Together, they proved clutch against Pablo Carreño Busta and Feliciano Lopez of Spain and won the decider 6-3, 6-4.
“We won against a really, really good doubles team,” Djokovic said during Serbia’s team press conference. “It was a surprise that Nadal was not on the court, but nevertheless, we had to do the job and and the job was done very well.”
“The last couple of weeks brought us a lot of positive emotions and great things that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.” – @djokernole.
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 13, 2020
Throughout, Team Serbia received tremendous and loud fan support, especially in Sydney, where there is a large Serbian population – and Djokovic fed off of the energy that their vocal cheers of “No-le” and “Ser-bia” created. As New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg tweeted, “Every Serbia match felt like a home game, both in Brisbane and Sydney.”
“I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like this on a tennis court. … You carried us to victory and we owe you a big, big thanks,” said Djokovic during the trophy ceremony in thanking the Serbian fans. “We are part of an individual sport where we play by ourselves. But even when we were playing singles it never felt like it was only you out there. You always have a team in your corner giving you strength and focus. This was the highlight of the competition, along with the support of fans and the flags.”
As soon as Djokovic served out the final game of the match and the tournament, his Serbian teammates and their captain, Nenad Zimonjic, sprinted from the team zone on to the court and surrounded him and Troicki. Together, they broke into a celebratory group hug that was both genuine and giddy – and thoroughly enjoyable to see.
“I’ll remember this experience for the rest of my life as definitely one of the nicest moments in my career,” said Djokovic following his team’s jubilant celebration. That says something coming from the 16-time Grand Slam champion who will begin his title defense of the Australian Open next week in Melbourne. Djokovic has lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup seven times.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have an amazing career the last 15 years, but playing for the team, playing for the country with some of my best friends for a long time, you can’t match that. That’s just too special.”
What they tweeted
From The Tennis Podcast: “Serbia win the #ATPCup! 🇷🇸🏆
“There’s uncertainty about what this all means for tennis, but the Serbian team are certainly very pumped in front of lots of ecstatic Serbs in Sydney.
“Djokovic with a flawless 8-0 record (6 singles, 2 doubles) and the perfect Aus Open preparation.”
By the numbers
• A total of 220,319 fans attended the inaugural 24-team ATP Cup, which took place in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, from Jan. 3-12.
• Sunday’s final between Serbia and Spain drew 10,223 at Ken Rosewall Arena.
• A total of 1,322 aces were served and AUD $132,000 donated to Tennis Australia’s Aces for Bushfire Relief initiative. Nick Kyrgios of Australia served the most aces of any player during the ATP Cup with 69.