Spain, Serbia Open ATP Cup Campaign With Wins

SYDNEY, January 4, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)

Saturday’s night session of the inaugural ATP Cup was headlined by the debut of World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and World No. 2 Novak Djokovic.

Sydney

2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic and World No. 108 Dennis Novak opened proceedings on Ken Rosewall Arena in the Group E tie between Croatia and Austria.

The match was dominated by many service holds, since both benefit from a strong serve. Therefore, it was even less surprising, that the winner of the first set had to be determined in a tie-break. In the end, to the astonishment of the majority, it was the Austrian underdog who was able to win the opening set by the score of 7-6(4).

Cilic gradually began to exert a lot of pressure on the forehand side during the second set. After about an hour and 30 minutes, it was him who secured the first break of the match. Serving solidly, the 31-year-old Croatian went on holding his following service game to love, to eventually grab the second set and tie the score.

Knowing well that it will be difficult to win the match as Cilic got stronger each game, Novak received plenty of valuable tips from Austrian captain and former World No. 1 Thomas Muster. Nevertheless, Cilic’s experience and individual class paid off in the end, he converted his second breakball of the third set and ultimately beat Novak 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 after two hours and 26 minutes.

“I think everyone who can deal with the nerves, everyone is going to be playing their better selves on the court. You have your team captain behind you. You have your teammates. They can definitely give you big support. You are feeling that responsibility on the court as well that you want to push, you want to fight, even when you are in some difficult situations,” Cilic said.

In the second singles rubber, World No. 4 Dominic Thiem was set to face Croatian’s number 1 Borna Coric, who was not just aiming to secure the victory for Croatia, but also trying to break his five-match losing streak in ATP tournaments (mainly caused by a persistent injury in 2019).

Although the Austrian won his last three ATP matches with the Croat, it was Coric who came out as victor after rallying past Thiem 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3 in two hours and 45 minutes.

“I was not coming into this match with lots of confidence, playing great. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, if I’m going to play good or not. But I was playing really good tennis,” Coric said. “Even though [I lost] the second set, I felt I was playing good tennis, honestly. It’s just that he was playing too good. And then in the third set, I just found that on important points I was playing really brave, and in the end it paid off.”

Coric oupointed Thiem by just one point (100-99), hit five aces during the match and won 61 per cent of his service points (65/107).

Lastly, in the doubles rubber, Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic managed to secure a straight-sets victory over Oliver Marach and Jürgen Melzer, beating them 7-6(4), 6-2, to complete the perfect day at work for Croatia.

Perth

In Group B, Spain whitewashed Georgia to begin their ATP Cup campaign.

In the first singles rubber, Roberto Bautista Agut eased past his opponent Aleksandre Metreveli, who is 670 places below him in the ATP singles ranking. The 31-year-old Spaniard did not just win in straight sets, he even handed a “double bagel” to his Georgian opponent, beating him 6-0, 6-0. However, what is quite uncommon for such a result, is the fact that the match lasted a respectable 73 minutes and Metreveli was able to score 32 points, almost just half as much as Bautista Agut (65).

“I did not have information about him, but I did ask some players who knew him before and had some ideas. I did not see him play. I focused on my game and I knew it was important to start with a break. I wanted to get the advantage. It was good to make the break in the second game. Every match counts and I was to playing full on until the very end,” said Bautista Agut.

In the second match of the encounter, World No. 1 Rafael Nadal faced World No. 26 Nikoloz Basilashvili in his first match at the ATP Cup. Before today, the two had already met three times, but only once on hard court, when Nadal beat Basilashvili in four sets in the Round 16 of the 2018 US Open.

After a slow start, Nadal began to dictate the rallies and was able to secure the first set comfortably by the score of 6-3. In the second set, too, it was the 19-time Grand Slam champion who kept dominating most of the points and quickly ran away with a double break. The Spaniard looked set for a comfortable win after serving for the match at 5-2, until Basilashvili lifted an “all-or-nothing” tactic – which worked out in his favor. The Georgian build up momentum with several winners and managed to recover to 5-5. In the end, however, the 33-year-old Manacor was able to refocus and eventually beat the 27-year-old Georgian 6-3, 7-5 after an hour and 50 minutes.

“It has been positive victory, of course, for me and for the team — 3-0, a good start to the competition,” said Nadal.

“I had the match under control, 5-2 against a good player like Nikoloz. It has been a positive start. Obviously, he played some good games. I made a couple of mistakes, then the match became more difficult. That is it.”

On his way to the victory, Nadal hit two aces and won 74 per cent of his first-service points.

In the doubles rubber, Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez beat Aleksandre Bakshi and George Tsivadze 6-3, 6-4 to close the tie for Spain with a solid 3-0 win.

Brisbane

Dusan Lajovic and Novak Djokovic put up Serbia 2-0 ahead in their tie against South Africa in Group A.

Despite losing the first set to 22-year-old Lloyd Harris, ranked 99 in the world, Serbian No. 2 Dusan Lajovic showed heart and struck back to eventually defeat his opponent 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 and secure the first win for Serbia in this encounter after two hours and 15 minutes.

Until the end of the second set, Lajovic was struggling to find a way to get into Harris’ service games, as he was constantly taking risks on first and second serves. In the crucial tie-break of the second set, however, the Serbian managed to get the ball into play and forced Harris to hit three forehands that went long. During the third set, the 22-year-old South African had major problems with his fitness which was not only perceived by Lajovic, but also punished.

“I was putting pressure on his serve and I think he was feeling it and that was the key in the tie-break,” Lajovic said. “I knew that if I stayed confident in the tie-break, I’d have my chances. And after the tie-break he went down physically a little bit.”

Next up on Pat Rafter Arena was the match between Djokovic and Kevin Anderson, who played his first professional match since Wimbledon in July 2019 after finally recovering from a knee injury.

Djokovic, who was leading their ATP Head2Head rivalrly by 8-2 ahead of the match, started furiously and was quickly up 4-1 with just one point lost on his own serve. Despite a rusty start, Anderson remained optimistic and was able to hit some brilliant winners to not only get the break back, but also hold his following service game after defending four breakpoints to recover to 4-4.

After seventy minutes, the first set went into a tie-break, which the Serb could finally win by the score of 7-5. The second set remained just as tight as the first, and once again, a winner could only be determined in a tie-break. Anderson managed to get a set point at 6-5 on his own serve but missed a forehand. In the end, Djokovic went on winning the next two points and eventually beat Kevin Anderson 7-6(5), 7-6(6) after two hours and twenty minutes.

“I’m pretty pleased with my game. To be honest, considering the fact that he was playing at the very high level, I thought it was a fantastic match,” Djokovic said.

Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki won the dead doubles rubber against Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse 6-3, 6-2 in under an hour to secure a 3-0 victory for Serbia.