SYDNEY, January 6, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)
Day 4 of the inaugural ATP Cup was headlined by the encounter between France and Serbia, in which Serbia triumphed and thus secured its place in the quarterfinals.
Guido Pella and Dennis Novak opened Monday’s night session action for their respective countries Argentina and Austria on Ken Rosewall Arena.
Twenty-six year-old Novak entered the match will the will of securing Austria’s first victory at the ATP Cup. And although at the beginning it seemed like he would not be capable of realizing Austria’s first victory, as the World No. 108 quickly lost the first set by the score of 0-6 and only won 39 per cent of his service points, he eventually came out victorious in the end, upsetting World No. 25 Pella 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 14 minutes.
“I felt not really good in the beginning. It was a huge difference [from] two days ago, the conditions. I mean, the first set looks quite easy for him,” Novak said. “After the first set I went to a toilet break with Thomas, and I came out and changed a little bit my game and fought back in the game. I think at the end I played really good tennis.”
It was only Novak’s second victory over a Top 30 opponent, which additionally granted him entry into the TOP 100 in the ATP live-ranking for first the time in his career.
In the second rubber, Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman were set to face each other for already the eighth time in their career. Thiem emerged victorious in five of their seven previous encounters.
Right from the start, the 26-year-old Austrian imposed his aggressive game style on Schwartzman. Thiem managed to seal the first break of the match in Schwartzman’s second service game, as the Argentinian did not find his rhythm yet and hit two unforced errors. In the course of the set, the Vienna native continued to take step forwards and go for risk-taking shots, which helped him to secure another break and eventually win the first set by the score of 6-3.
The second set started with four consecutive service breaks, but thenceforward both raised their serve and pushed each other straight into a decisive tie-break after various sizeable rallies. Again, it was Thiem who found the line with aggressive winners and prevailed after almost two hours 6-3, 7-6(3) to clinch Austria’s first tie win at the ATP Cup.
“I’m really happy with the improvement from Saturday to today. [I had a] good practice session yesterday where I was working on the things which were not that great on Saturday, and today was really I think a match on a high level. Still, here and there some mistakes, which maybe didn’t happen towards the end of last year, but in general it was a great match,” said Thiem during the post-pone interview.
Oliver Marach and Jürgen Melzer eased past Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 6-1, 6-4 in the dead doubles rubber to complete Austria’s 3-0 victory.
Benoit Paire and Novak Djokovic clinched wins for their respective countries to split the tie evenly ahead of the doubles rubber.
Paire managed to claim a hard-fought three-set victory over Dusan Lajovic, winning 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-4 after two hours and 6 minutes.
The 30-year-old Frenchman, who is a holder of three ATP Tour singles titles, already served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but then started a series of unforced errors that brought his Serbian opponent back into play. In the following tie-break, Paire set up another chance of closing the match in straight sets, as he hit a brilliant volley to earn two match points at 6-4. But Lajovic, who showed a lot of heart and demonstrated great fighting spirit, went on winning the next four points to grab the second set and tie the score.
Out of anger at losing the second set, despite having had two chances to close the match, Paire smashed two of his racquets, threw several water bottles and needed to be reassured by his teammates.
“Honestly, if I’m alone on court I can break more than the racquet; I can destroy all my racquets and leave the court. So that’s why they told me, ‘Just stay relaxed and you will see what happens. For the moment you play good, it’s a good match, a lot of winners, some mistakes’. But it was very important for me to stay focussed for the team,” Paire said.
“When Gael came and told me, ‘Yeah, you have to fight, you have to fight for the team’, I did it, so that’s why I’m happy.”
In the end, the World No. 24 from Avignon, France outpointed his opponent by the score of 97-90, hit 10 aces and won 68 per-cent of his service points.
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic was under pressure in the second match, knowing he had to beat Gael Monfils, who is ranked 10th in the world, to keep alive the chances of winning for Serbia in this encounter. However, Monfils has never been able to beat Djokovic in their 15-match ATP Head2Head series, and that should not be the case at their 16th meeting on Monday night at the ATP Cup either.
The 16-time Grand Slam singles champion from Serbia has demonstrated efficient tennis at its finest. On his way to a seasoned 6-3, 6-2 victory over Monfils, Djokovic converted all his break points (3/3) and erased every break point he faced (9/9).
Just about half an hour later, Djokovic was back on court for the decisive doubles match with Viktor Troicki on his side. Both had to face the experienced French duo consisting of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. During the match, Djokovic requested to see a physio and needed to take a medical time-out, as he was dealing with an elbow injury on his right arm.
However, the Serbian duo was still able to upset Mahut and Roger-Vasselin, beating them 6-3, 6-7(5) [10-3] in an hour and 48 minutes. In addition, Team Serbia qualified for the quarterfinals of the ATP Cup, which will be played in Sydney.
Sensational Serbia 🇷🇸@DjokerNole and @troicki_viktor claim victory over Mahut/Roger-Vasselin 6-3 6-7(5) [10-3] to seal the win for 🇷🇸 #TeamSerbia.#ATPCup | #Brisbane | #SRBFRA pic.twitter.com/DcMEbVnvH1
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 6, 2020
“We love playing for our country,” Djokovic said afterwards. “Thanks to the people for staying to almost 1 a.m. to support us. You guys are true tennis fans.”
In Group B, Roberto Bautista Agut and Rafael Nadal gave Spain an unassailable 2-0 lead against Team Uruguay.
World No. 9 Bautista Agut needed just an hour on his way to a 6-1, 6-2 win over his 19-year-old unranked opponent Franco Roncadelli, who stepped in to replace injured Martin Cuevas and participated in his first ever ATP match (including ATP Challenger Tour).
The more experienced Spaniard was dictating most of the points, dominated the rallies from the baseline and was just hitting fewer errors overall. In the end, Bautista Agut outpointed his opponent by the score of 56-30 and won 72 per-cent of his service points.
“It was a good match,” said Bautista Agut. “I think it’s never easy to play against a player you never saw play. And it was a good win again and it’s good to start the season playing some matches.”
Next up on Rac Arena was the match between World No. 1 Nadal and World No. 45 Pablo Cuevas. Both already played each other five times in the past, but their most recent meeting has been a while ago in 2017 at the Rolex Paris Masters, where the Spaniard came out victorious in three sets. This time, too, the Mallorcan emerged as the victor, winning 6-2, 6-1 after 73 minutes.
“You actually are the first player to be World No. 1 in three different decades… what is the secret?”
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 6, 2020
Nadal, who earlier in 2019 acknowledged that at this point of his career, serving well has become an essential part of his game, hit six aces and lost just three points (24/27) on first serve against Cuevas.
Lastly, in the doubles rubber, Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez managed to seal a hard-fought victory over Ariel Behar and Juan Martin Fumeaux, winning 6-1,3-6 [10-3] to complete the perfect day at the office for Spain.
Your winners from Day 4 at the #ATPCup are:
🇿🇦 #TeamSouthAfrica 3 – 0 🇨🇱 #TeamChile
🇯🇵 #TeamJapan 2 – 1 🇬🇪 #TeamGeorgia
🇭🇷 #TeamCroatia 2 – 1 🇵🇱 #TeamPoland
🇷🇸 #TeamSerbia 2 – 1 🇫🇷 #TeamFrance
🇪🇸 #TeamSpain 3 – 0 🇺🇾 #TeamUruguay
🇦🇹 #TeamAustria 3 – 0 🇦🇷 #TeamArgentina
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 6, 2020