SYDNEY: Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal and then went back on court within an hour and won the deciding doubles encounter to secure Serbia’s victory over Spain in the inaugural ATP Cup final.
Second-ranked Djokivic had a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) win over world number one Nadal on Sunday night to level the final after Roberto Bautista Agut had given Spain a 1-0 lead by beating Dusan Lajovic 7-5, 6-1 in the first singles match.
After extending his lead to 29-26 in career head-to-heads with Nadal, and his supremacy over the Spaniard on hard-courts, Djokovic combined with Victor Troicki for a 6-3, 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez.
“I’ll remember this experience for the rest of my life its one of the nicest moments of my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been very fortunately blessed, had an amazing career over the last 15 years, but playing for a team, playing for a country with some of my best friends is just you can’t match that. It’s too special.”
He joked in an on-court TV interview that the team would fly home to Serbia to celebrate before the Australian Open, which starts a week from Monday, but decided the party should start in Sydney.
“There’s a lot of Serbian people in Sydney,” Djokovic said. If you want to make a celebration, were ready.”
Nadal, who hasn’t beaten Djokovic on a hard surface since the 2013 US Open final, withdrew from the doubles, citing fatigue, saying he had confidence in his team-mate Lopez, a four-time Davis Cup champion.
“I have been playing a lot of tennis the last couple of days. My level of energy is a little bit lower than usual, because I played long yesterday, very long before yesterday, very long in [Perth],” Nadal said. “So is a team decision, and we believe in our team. That’s why we had success in the past.”
Djokovic has created the blueprint to beat Nadal on hardcourts, although he is one of the very few players good enough to follow the instructions.
The Serbian held his line, and was rarely pushed back deep into the court by the Spaniard’s heavy spin, a position from which Nadal usually dictates terms.
“I was trying to take away as much time as possible from him,” Djokovic said. “I’m just extremely satisfied with the way I performed.”
Djokovic broke Nadal’s serve in the first game, lighting up a near capacity crowd in the 10,500-person canopied-stadium. The noise from the flag-waving Serbian supporters between serves weighed on Nadal, who at one stage gave a sarcastic thumbs-up gesture to his rival’s supporters.
The Spaniard’s reaction only enticed the crowd deeper into the contest as they bellowed Djokovic’s nickname — “Nole, Nole”.
After a dominant first set marked by Djokovic’s strong serving, the contest tightened. Nadal employed more attacking serve-volley tactics, and settled into a harder-hitting rhythm.
Trailing 0-40 on his serve in the sixth game of the second set, Djokovic looked likely to crack, but the Spaniard was unable to convert.
The second set was decided in a tiebreak, ending when Nadal netted a forehand.
Bautista Agut was a class above Lajovic, ranked 34, also earning the distinction of going through the tournament unbeaten.
Efficient and emotionless, he got off to a flyer, racing into a 3-0 lead as the Lajovic struggled to find any rhythm. But he finally settled and hauled himself back into the set.
It went with serve until the Spaniard’s dominance from the baseline earned him two more break points in the 12th game and he took the set.
The Serbian lost confidence as Bautista Agut raced to victory, with his unrelenting consistency proving too much.
The 10,223-strong crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena was packed with Serbia supporters who waved their flags and chanted ‘Serbia, Serbia, Serbia’ throughout the final.
A little after 1 a.m. local time on Monday, they were cheering for their champions.