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Djokovic inspires Serbia to ATP Cup title

leye aduloju /

World No. 2, Novak Djokovic won his singles and doubles rubbers to propel Serbia to victory over Spain in the ATP Cup final on Sunday night in Sydney.

Roberto Bautista-Agut had given Spain the lead with a 7-5 6-1 victory over Serbian No. 2, Dusan Lajovic, but Djokovic turned the tie on its head, beating great rival, Rafael Nadal to even the final, before partnering Viktor Troicki to victory in the deciding doubles rubber.

“I’ll remember this experience for the rest of my life as definitely one of the nicest moments in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have an amazing career the last 15 years, but playing for the team, playing for the country with some of my best friends for a long long time, you can’t match that. That’s just too special.”

Bautista-Agut’s earlier victory over Lajovic meant Nadal would seal the title for Spain if he defeated Djokovic in the heavyweight second rubber, but the Serbian great had other ideas.

Needing to win to keep Serbia’s ATP Cup hopes alive, Djokovic raced out of the blocks in his 55th meeting with Nadal, immediately troubling Nadal with his sharp returning and precise, deep groundstrokes. Nadal fended off two break points in the opening game of the match, but pressure eventually told as Djokovic got the break for the perfect start.

Backed by a vociferous Serbian crowd in Sydney, Djokovic maintained an extremely high level throughout a superb opening set, racing through his service games and constantly putting Nadal under pressure. The world No. 2 broke again for a 5-2 lead before serving out the set with aplomb, firing down four straight aces in an emphatic finish to a dominant opening set.

Nadal was thoroughly outplayed in that opening set, but the world No. 1 is one of the greatest problem solvers in the sport, and is never one to give up without a fight.

He raised his level significantly in the second set, leading to a far more even contest. The Spaniard had his chance in the fifth game, when he carved out five break points, including a 0-40 lead, but he couldn’t convert, as Djokovic showed remarkable poise and clarity of thought under immense duress to escape with a massive hold.

Nadal’s challenge appeared to have faded when he slipped to a 15-40 deficit at 5-5, but he produced an electrifying spell of play to dig himself out of trouble. He saved the first break point with a deep forehand volley after a brilliant exchange, drawing applause from his opponent, and the second with a brute of a backhand winner down the line, before going on to hold.

Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki won the deciding doubles rubber. (PA Sport)

Both men exchanged early mini-breaks in the ensuing tie break, but Djokovic made the decisive move at 4-4, taking control of the point before ripping a short backhand winner down the line to grab another minibreak. The world No. 2 took care of his next two service points to seal his 29th victory over his great rival.

Djokovic and Nadal were expected to feature in the deciding doubles rubber, but the Spaniards opted for Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta, leaving out Nadal, who was presumably tired after his exertions. Lopez and Carreno Busta made a fast start, breaking Djokovic and Troicki in the opening game of the match, but Serbia, with Djokovic dictating play, soon fought their way back into the contest.

From 1-3 down, Serbia reeled off seven straight games to open up a 6-3 2-0 lead, an advantage they never surrendered. Spain steadied the ship and made the second set competitive, but Djokovic and Troicki kept them at arm’s length, and sealed the ATP Cup title with a 6-3 6-4 victory.