The inaugural ATP Cup has proven its worth for players, fans and Serbia, with Novak Djokovic saying he’d remember his team’s triumph for the rest of his life.
Djokovic extended his hardcourt domination of Rafael Nadal with a 6-2 7-6 (7-4) win over the world No.1 before teaming with Victor Troicki to take the deciding doubles rubber 6-3 6-4 over Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta.
Played into the early hours of Monday morning, Serbia’s stirring fightback came after Roberto Bautista Agut had put Spain 1-0 up in the best-of-three tie with a 7-5 6-1 win over Dusan Lajovic in the opening opening match.
Down a service break in the opening set of the doubles, the Serbians reeled off six successive games to seize command of the final.
While Nadal pulled out of the doubles, saying he was low on energy after a total of eight singles and doubles matches in nine days, there was no stopping Djokovic despite the world No.2 carrying Serbia with a similar twin workload.
Appearing for the first time in Sydney in a decade, the 16-times grand slam champion said he’d never played in such an atmosphere as he had in front of fervent Serbian fans over the past three days.
“I’ll remember this experience for the rest of my life,” Djokovic said.
If you guys want to make a celebration, we’re ready. There’s a lot of Serbian people in Sydney.”
Even Nadal, one of the most popular athletes on the planet, found the going too much, complaining to the chair umpire and then giving Serbian spectators a sarcastic thumbs up after dropping serve to fall 5-2 behind in the opening set.
“Honestly, the crowd was fantastic every single day but sometimes people from some countries, they probably don’t understand how the tennis goes,” Nadal said.
“They think it’s about football or this stuff and atmosphere in tennis is different, no?
“The respect for the players should be there, and at some point I think the respect with small part of the crowd have been not there.”
Djokovic’s ninth consecutive hardcourt win over Nadal confirmed the world No.2 as a hot favourite to land an unprecedented eighth Australian Open crown.
“I started off the match perfectly – everything worked for me,” Djokovic said. “My serve got me out of trouble in the second set. I’m just really glad to hold my nerves again.”
Australian out on first night of Adelaide International
Australian wildcard Alexei Popyrin has fallen at the first hurdle at the inaugural Adelaide International ATP tournament.
The emerging 20-year-old has been beaten in three sets by Serbia’s Laslo Djere in their first-round encounter.
Two seeded Americans – Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka – also exited on Sunday’s opening day.
Djere, the world No.39, defeated Popyrin 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-4 in the first centre court night fixture at Adelaide’s redeveloped Memorial Drive.
Serena Williams back on the winners list
Serena Williams has won her first title since returning from a maternity break, saying her 6-3 6-4 win over compatriot Jessica Pegula at the Auckland Classic was a huge relief.
The 38-year-old was broken in the first game of the match and was a frustrated figure until she found her feet against the plucky world No.82, who reached the final with the semi-final scalp of Caroline Wozniacki.
Showing her trademark fortitude, Williams bludgeoned her way to the first set in 49 minutes, rattling off the final five games of the set with a succession of winners and fist pumps.
Williams took an early break in the second set, with the 25-year-old Pegula clinging to tight holds of serve that kept her alive.
Pegula dug deep to save three championship points before Williams duly served out for the tournament, throwing her hands in the air before almost collapsing onto the court.
Williams beat compatriot Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-4 in one hour and 35 minutes, saying afterwards she had “been waiting two years for this moment”.
“It feels good. It’s been a long time. You can see the relief on my face,” Williams said.
Barty falls in doubles, but Pliskova full steam ahead
At the Brisbane International Ashleigh Barty and Kiki Bertens fell short in the doubles final, with the world No.1 missing a match point to lose to top seeds Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova.
On the final day of a tournament that some players felt had been overlooked because of the success of the ATP Cup, Karolina Pliskova beat American Madison Keys in the singles final.
The Czech world No.2 on Sunday became the first player to win the event three times, Pliskova again serving without fear in a 6-4 4-6 7-5 tussle.
“It was my last push today, I think I spent quite a lot of time on the courts this week … so finally tomorrow’s a day off for me,” Pliskova said. “My recovery is quite good, so I think one day off … will be enough for me.
It was a great way to start the year. But of course, grand slam or any other tournament, it always starts on zero … there’s nobody really thinking that ‘oh, she won a tournament two weeks ago’.”
Earlier, Barty reminded home fans of her doubles pedigree as the unseeded pair got within a point of the title in the second-set tiebreaker.
But the world No.1’s clutch serving and deft hands weren’t enough as the Wimbledon champions prevailed 3-6 7-6 (9-7) 10-8 on Pat Rafter Arena.
“A couple points here and there … that’s the beauty and the beast in this kind of format .. it’s kind of on a knife’s edge, it can change really quickly,” Barty said.
Barty had lost her second-round singles match to qualifier Jennifer Brady – her first match of the year after a first-round bye.
Her doubles run meant the Queenslander still earned about $65,000 at the tournament despite her early singles exit, all of which she pledged to donate to the Red Cross Fire Appeal.