Rafael Nadal felt he was being disrespected by the enormous Serbian contingent of fans as he went down to Novak Djokovic in a thrilling ATP Cup contest in Sydney on Sunday night.
The World No. 1 fought back bravely after being dismantled in the opening set, but he couldn’t force a decider as Djokovic came out on top with a 6-2 7-6(4) victory in just under two hours.
The pair combined to play some spectacular points, but one of the biggest moments of the contest was when Nadal had a heated exchange with umpire Mohamed Layhani about the Serbian crowd cheering and making noise during points and when he was about to serve.
Speaking after the match, Nadal said the Serbian fans were acting more like football fans and that they ‘didn’t understand’ how to behave in tennis.
“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.”
Rarely rattled on court, Nadal gave a sarcastic thumbs up to the Serbian crowd after being broken towards the end of the first set, and although his performance improved significantly in the second, he was unable to match it with Djokovic towards the tail-end of the second set tiebreak.
Djokovic has now won his last 19 consecutive sets against Nadal on hardcourt, with the Spaniard’s last win over the Serbian on the surface coming seven years ago.
After winning the revamped Davis Cup Finals with Spain in Madrid in November, Nadal once again called for the ATP Cup and Davis Cup to merge into ‘one big World Cup’.
“I think (ATP Cup) is a great competition, but at the same time – I can’t change my mind that two World Cups in one month is not real. So is not possible,” he said.
“So we need to find a way to fix it and we need to find a way to make a big deal with ITF and ATP to create a big World Team Cup competition, not two. I think that’s a confusion for the spectators, and we need to be clear in our sport.”
Nadal remains the World No. 1 heading into the Australian Open, but Djokovic has closed the gap to just 520 points after winning all six of his singles matches in the ATP Cup.
Both players will now head to Melbourne to prepare for the opening Grand Slam of the season. Djokovic crushed Nadal in straight sets to win a record seventh Australian Open in last year’s final.