Nadal’s Spain To Meet Djokovic’s Serbia In ATP Cup Final

A photo combination of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal . AFP

 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face each other in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup after winning epic three-set matches Saturday to steer Spain and Serbia into the decider.

World number one Nadal ground down pumped-up Australian Alex de Minaur to guide the Davis Cup champions through their semi-final while Djokovic battled past Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.

Under the format of the innovative team event in Sydney, the top-ranked singles players from each country play each other, ensuring the two legends clash for the 55th time since their first showdown in 2006.

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World number two Djokovic leads the head-to-head 28-26, including beating his arch-rival in the Australian Open final last year.

Nadal outlasted De Minaur 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 after unflappable teammate Roberto Bautista Agut tamed Nick Kyrgios 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic had an equally tough time against impressive fifth-ranked Medvedev, coming through a top-draw contest 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 on the back of Dusan Lajovic beating Karen Khachanov 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).

“Alex was playing at a very high level and for me, my energy was a little bit lower than usual. But it has been a very emotional evening and a pleasure playing here,” said Nadal.

“We know it’s going to be a super tough final (against Serbia),” he added. “Novak likes a lot to play here, he’s had a lot of great results. So let’s see. We have a good team too.”

De Minaur had a furious start, breaking Nadal in the opening game of the match and then keeping the pressure on, restricting the Spaniard’s trademark forehand to take the first set in 46 minutes.

Full of energy, his serve was on fire and he was winning the baseline rallies, but Nadal weathered the onslaught and finally won a breakpoint, converting to take the second set.

De Minaur was deflated and the fight went out of him as the 19-time Grand Slam showed him who was boss, racing through the deciding set.

Unassuming world number 10 Bautista Agut was in control and all over the groundstrokes of temperamental Kyrgios, who looked lost as he crashed 6-1 in the first set.

The Australian regained some lustre in the second set. But he was broken in the fifth game, mangling his racquet in frustration, and despite saving two match points with booming aces was outplayed.

“My game plan was to put him under pressure to play every point, to make him work. That’s what I tried and it went well,” said Bautista Agut.

Exceptional

Sixteen-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic, who is targeting an eighth Australian Open title this month, had looked on track for a comfortable win against Medvedev after sailing through the opening set and breaking in the first game of the second.

But the dogged Russian, who won their last two encounters, roared back.

He broke in the next game and then again for 3-1, with Djokovic smashing his racquet as Medvedev took the set to level the match.

The third set of long, high-quality rallies went with serve until Djokovic got the crucial edge in the fifth game, converting a volley to go 3-2 in front and Medvedev had no answer.

“It was an exceptional match. Lots of rallies and very exhausting. Daniil Medvedev is one of the best players in the world and he showed today why,” said Djokovic.

“He’s difficult to break from the baseline, he’s tall and has a good serve. This was the most difficult challenge I have had so far this year.”

Lajovic, who won his first ATP title last year at Umag, took a 2-0 record into his showdown with world number 17 Khachanov and produced a performance that belied his ranking of 34, displaying composure and a fine array of shots.

“It was definitely one of the toughest matches for me in my career, concerning the situation, the tension and the importance of the moment,” he said. “But the crowd carried me.”

AFP

France Crash Out Of ATP Cup

Benoit Paire of France hits a return to Kevin Anderson of South Africa during the men’s singles match on day six of the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Brisbane on January 8, 2020.  AFP

 

Former world number seven Kevin Anderson came back from the brink of defeat in Brisbane Wednesday to down Benoit Paire and end France’s hopes of making it to the quarter-finals of the inaugural ATP Cup.

Paire stormed through the first set and was serving for the match at 5-4 when his serve imploded.

Anderson won the second set but was on the ropes in the third when Paire suffered another meltdown to hand the match to the South African 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/5).

“Sometimes you get a little bit lucky — Benoit played a great match and he was the better player for a lot of it,” Anderson said. “I was just able to stick around.”

Earlier, French captain Gilles Simon was forced to step up to the Group A tie with only 15 minutes notice when number one Gael Monfils withdrew injured.

With Paire playing at number one, Simon took on Lloyd Harris and came back from losing the first set to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

South Africa won the doubles to take the tie 2-1 when Ruan Roelofse and Raven Klaasen beat Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3, 6-4.

In the first tie of the day, Novak Djokovic made it three singles wins from three with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Cristian Garin, the world number 33, to win the tie for Serbia after Dusan Lajovic earlier beat Nicolas Jarry 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).

Jarry and Alejandro Tabilo salvaged some pride for Chile when they beat Viktor Troicki and Nikola Cacic in the doubles 6-3, 7-6 (7/2).

Djokovic said he enjoyed the challenge of the ATP Cup.

“I’ve never minded, to be honest, to face tough adversity from the blocks and have high-intensity matches from day one of the season,” Djokovic, a 16-time grand slam winner, said.

“I had Kevin Anderson who was playing some extraordinary tennis. I thought it was the toughest match I’ve played here in Brisbane.

“And again against (Gael) Monfils, even though it was straight sets, it was still a lot of rallies and it was quite long and exhausting.

“I really am really happy with the challenges that I’ve had in the last six, seven days here, and hopefully that can allow me to build my form for Sydney and Melbourne later.”

Serbia now travel to Sydney, where they will take on Canada in the quarter-finals and Djokovic said he expected to have even more support from Serbian fans there than in Brisbane.

“I’m enjoying it — I enjoy the fact that we will actually go to a different city together, travel today, practice there tomorrow, play in a different environment,” he said.

“Sydney’s got a big Serbian community, hopefully the support can be as good as it was here, even better.”

mp/ind

Nadal On Fire As Spain Crush Uruguay At ATP Cup

Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay during their men’s singles match at the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Perth on January 6, 2020.
TONY ASHBY / AFP

 

World number one Rafael Nadal sharpened his serve and cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Pablo Cuevas at the ATP Cup on Monday in a flawless display as he fine-tunes for the Australian Open.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion hit 26 winners and fired down seven aces against the world number 45 to clinch Spain’s victory over Uruguay in Perth after Roberto Bautista Agut beat Franco Roncadelli 6-1, 6-2.

Spain plays Japan on Wednesday with the winner qualifying for the knockout phase in Sydney, while the loser will have to rely on other results.

Underdog Cuevas had beaten Nadal in Rio four years ago, a feat particularly impressive for having been played on the Spaniard’s preferred clay surface.

But he was never in the contest Monday.

“I played better than the other day and it’s a very positive victory against an opponent I have a lot of respect for,” said Nadal, while praising the packed stadium as the reason why he keeps going.

“Because of these very special feelings when you are on court in front of a great crowd supporting, that’s one of the reasons why you wake up every morning and go on the practice court with the right passion and the clear goal to improve something.”

Nadal started with an ace and looked sharp but Cuevas, who suffered a tame defeat against Yoshihito Nishioka in his opener, matched with clean striking from the baseline.

Nadal gained control by targeting Cuevas’ inconsistent serve and he broke four times in the 73-minute match.

The 33-year-old notably served strongly and faced just one breakpoint for the match after struggling in his season opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

World number 10 Bautista Agut has had a soft draw to start the season against ATP tour debutants Roncadelli and Aleksandre Metreveli, who he crushed 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday.

Unranked Roncadelli replaced injured Martin Cuevas, the younger brother of Pablo.

The left-hander unleashed several menacing slices and hit the scoreboard in the third game to energise the near-capacity crowd, before Bautista Agut put the foot down and he finished with 17 winners in the 57-minute match.

“It isn’t easy playing a match like this, but I’m happy for him to have this experience,” Bautista Agut said.

Nishioka notches second upset

In the earlier Group B tie, Nishioka notched his second upset to start the season after downing world number 26 Basilashvili in straight sets, as injury-hit Japan continued to surprise.

The world number 72 won 6-2, 6-3 to clinch the tie for unbeaten Japan after Go Soeda prevailed over Georgia’s Aleksandre Metreveli in three sets.

Japan, who whitewashed Uruguay on Saturday, are unbeaten despite the withdrawal of injured star Kei Nishikori and Yasutaka Uchiyama, their third best player, before the tournament.

They will attempt to continue their gutsy run against Spain, where Nishioka faces the daunting task of playing Nadal.

“I believe I can beat him,” Nishioka said. “I change my game plan against each opponent and I have a plan (against Nadal). If it works, maybe I have a chance.”

Winless teams Uruguay and Georgia are out of contention.

ATP Cup: Thiem Slumps As Croatia Upset Austria

Borna Coric of Croatia hits a return during his men’s singles match against Dominic Thiem of Austria at the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Sydney on January 4, 2020. William WEST / AFP

 

Borna Coric earned some badly-needed confidence with a big upset over world number four Dominic Thiem in stifling hot conditions at the ATP Cup Saturday as Austria slumped to defeat against a battling Croatia.

Thiem had won all three previous encounters with the 28th ranked Coric but failed to rediscover that form in Sydney, crashing 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-3.

Veteran Marin Cilic, a finalist at the 2018 Australian Open, earlier used his experience to down Austria’s Dennis Novak 6-7 (7/4), 6-4, 6-4, with Croatia taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the Group E tie at the 24-team event.

“It was really hot in the beginning but in the second set I started to feel better because I think the temperature went down,” said Coric.

“But it was really physical. It’s really nice to beat him because at the end of last season I was not playing well and this will give me a lot of confidence.

Coric had six losses in a row at the end of 2019 but dug deep against Thiem, who worked six break points in the third set but couldn’t convert any of them.

Former world number three Cilic showed similar fight in his tough three set victory.

“I’m very excited. It was absolutely very difficult,” said Cilic, who has fallen to 39 in the world, his lowest since 2013.

“Dennis played a great level. It was our first meeting, and it was absolutely a thriller and difficult match… and also a great match to start the year. I think the level was really, really good.”

Cilic sent down 15 aces and won all of his service games after losing the opening set.

Earlier in Group E, Poland’s top player Hubert Hurkacz stunned Argentinian pocket-rocket Diego Schwartzman, who blamed searing heat for his defeat.

Temperatures soared well above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Sydney, although fears that smoke haze from bushfires burning across New South Wales could impact the action proved unfounded.

World number 14 Schwartzman, one of the smallest players on tour at just 5ft 7ins (1.70 metres), looked destined for victory after winning the first set but wilted 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Guido Pella, ranked 25, had earlier battled past Kamil Majchrzak 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 to give Argentina the edge in their tie.

Hurkacz returned to partner two-time Grand Slam winner Lukasz Kubot in a deciding doubles rubber, but his energy was sapped and they fell 6-2, 6-4 to Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni, handing Argentina a 2-1 victory.

“The first match with this weather, you know, 45 degrees inside the court, difficult to play, difficult to be ready every single point,” said Schwartzman, who has improved his year-end ranking in four straight seasons.

“Then I think he deserved to win. He played much better than me.

“You know, that part of the game with this weather, it’s difficult to do every point. So every single point was difficult for me at the end,” he added.

AFP

Nadal, Djokovic Off To Winning Starts At ATP Cup

 

 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic kickstarted their build-up to the Australian Open with straight-sets wins at the ATP Cup Saturday, but world number four Dominic Thiem slumped to defeat.

Top-ranked Nadal had little trouble with Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, racing to a 6-3, 7-5 victory, while long-time rival Djokovic was given more of a test by South Africa’s Kevin Anderson before overcoming him 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6).

Their wins ensured Spain and Serbia clinched their ties at the inaugural 24-nation team event, where the countries are split into six groups across Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

The top eight from the round-robin go onto the knockout phase in Sydney before one is eventually crowned the winner.

France, Argentina, Croatia and Japan also began their tournament in style, winning their ties to join day one victors Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Norway, Russia and Australia.

“I’m super, super happy to be here in Perth for first time in my life. It’s an amazing arena and a great crowd,” said Nadal.

“It was tough first match of the season, not an easy start. But I think I played a great game.”

Earlier, his teammate Roberto Bautista Agut crushed a hapless Aleksandre Metreveli 6-0, 6-0.

Serbian superstar Djokovic needed to produce some of his best tennis to see off the big-serving Anderson, admitting it was a testing encounter.

“What a way to start the year,” he said. “He was on fire tonight — I think the quality of tennis was quite high. “I was very pleased with the way I kind of weathered the storm.”

His teammate Dusan Lajovic outlasted Lloyd Harris 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

Confidence

Austria’s Thiem forecast this week that 2020 would be the year that the vice-like hold of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer on Grand Slam titles would come to an end.

He is tipped as one of those who could make the breakthrough, along with Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. But all three have been beaten in their opening ATP Cup clashes.

Thiem, who won five titles last year, had six break points in the third set against Croatia’s Borna Coric, but failed to convert any of them.

“It’s really nice to beat him because at the end of last season I was not playing well and this will give me a lot of confidence,” said Coric, ranked 28 and who suffered six losses in a row in late 2019.

Fellow Croat Marin Cilic, a finalist at the 2018 Australian Open, used his experience to down Austria’s Dennis Novak 6-7 (7/4), 6-4, 6-4, and ensure Croatia won the tie in Sydney.

The most dominant win of the day came courtesy of Japan, who are without the injured Kei Nishikori but crushed Uruguay 3-0 in Perth, dropping just 15 games across their two singles and one doubles rubbers.

Yoshihito Nishioka routed higher-ranked Pablo Cuevas 6-0, 6-1 and veteran Go Soeda thrashed Martin Cuevas, Pablo’s younger brother, 6-1, 6-3 before a tighter doubles encounter.

French duo Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire, both in the top 25, led their country to a 2-1 Group A win over Chile, while Argentina scraped past Poland by the same score.

But it was a struggle for the South Americans with Polish number one Hubert Hurkacz upsetting world number 14 Diego Schwartzman in three sets.

Guido Pella won the other singles before Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni teamed to down Hurkacz and two-time Grand Slam winner Lukasz Kubot in the deciding doubles.

Some US$15 million in prize money is at stake in the tournament, with up to 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP rankings points up for grabs.

Under the innovative tournament rules, on-court coaching is allowed and team zones are in the corners of the court, rather than on the sidelines by the umpire.

ATP Cup: Goffin ‘Very Motivated’ After Winning Streak

David Goffin of Belgium hits a forehand return during his men’s singles match against Radu Albot of Moldova at the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Sydney on January 3, 2020. William WEST / AFP

 

World number 11 David Goffin said he was “very motivated” after getting his season off to a winning start Friday at the ATP Cup in Sydney, which was marred by a national anthem gaffe by organisers.

Belgium’s top player led his team to a win over Group C rivals Moldova at the inaugural 24-nation event that is also being played in Brisbane and Perth.

He cruised past an error-laden Radu Albot 6-4, 6-1, rarely threatened by the world number 46 who broke new ground in 2019 by becoming his country’s first ATP Tour title winner at Delray Beach.

“I was very good intensity, good energy, good attitude. That made the difference,” said Goffin, who made two ATP Tour finals last year at Halle and Cincinnati.

“I’m very motivated, happy to start the year with new ambitions, so maybe that’s why today was a very good match.”

“It’s never easy to start the season with the first match, first team competition, the new format, with the team on the bench. And the way I played, I’m very pleased and so it’s good for the next tie.”

The ATP Cup, which allows on-court coaching, has 24 nations split into six groups across the three cities, with eight teams emerging from the round-robin to compete in a knockout phase in Sydney until one country is left standing.

Under the format, the second-ranked singles players from each team face each other first before the top players take to the court, followed by a doubles.

Belgium’s Steve Darcis earlier scrapped past Alexander Cozbinov 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5 to hand his country a perfect start, with the match marred by the Romanian anthem being played beforehand instead of Moldova.

“We are sincerely sorry and have apologised personally to Team Moldova,” the ATP said.

Cozbinov, ranked 818 and who had never played an ATP Tour match before, insisted it was “not a big deal”.

“But it wasn’t that hard to pick the right anthem,” he told AFP. “Moldova and Romania have the same flag so probably that’s why they made a mistake. Hopefully next time it’s going to be the right one.”

The Tim Henman-skippered Britain, minus the injured Andy Murray, take on Bulgaria in the second Group C tie later Friday, with Grigor Dimitrov acting as playing-captain of his country.

AFP

Djokovic Backs New ATP Cup Men’s Team Event

Djokovic, Kerber Top Seeds At Australian Open
Novak Djokovic

 

Novak Djokovic has backed a new men’s team competition from 2020 just a day after he had raised serious concerns over the timing of the event, which will take place shortly after the revamped Davis Cup.

The ATP Cup, announced by the ATP and Tennis Australia on Thursday during the ATP Finals in London, will be played across three Australian cities over 10 days in the lead-up to the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, which starts in January.

It will offer $15 million (13.24 million euros) in prize money and up to 750 ATP Rankings points to the winners.

“I like that it’s owned by ATP, by the players, and that we have ranking points, and it’s going to be the best way to kickstart the season,” said world number one Djokovic.

“More than 90 percent of the time we’re playing as individuals and we don’t have too many team events.

“This is going to bring together a lot of nations and for me personally it will be a very nice and proud moment to represent my country.”

Djokovic, who is president of the ATP player council, had said on Wednesday that having two similar team tournaments so close together would not be sustainable, also expressing concerns over the length of the tennis season.

“I think in the next two years we’ll have both events happening in a very similar format if not the same, six weeks apart,” he said.

“I honestly don’t think it’s good for the sport… It will happen that we will have two average events.”

 Davis Cup fears 

A revamped Davis Cup tournament will take place from November 2019, bringing together 18 nations in one place for a week at the end of the season.

The Davis Cup is run by the ITF, the governing body of world tennis, while the ATP, which runs the men’s Tour, will stage the ATP Cup.

Earlier this week, world number five Alexander Zverev said almost all the top players would skip the Davis Cup.

“The Davis Cup has some serious issues to think about, I think,” he said.

“One of them is the dates. I think the dates are very important and I think none of the top players will play, except Rafa (Rafael Nadal) because it’s in Spain. I’m very, very sure that a lot of top players will not play. We’ll see how it goes.”

The format of the ATP Cup will see nations split into six groups, with eight teams emerging from the round-robin stage to compete in the knockout phase.

There will be up to five players in each team, with ties comprising two singles matches and one doubles match.

AFP