ATP Cup: Nadal, Djokovic win, Thiem upset

  • Matt Trollope

The world’s top two ranked men, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, commenced their 2020 campaigns with hard-fought wins at the ATP Cup on Saturday night.

Nadal, playing in Perth, saw off Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3 7-5 to hand Spain a 2-0 win over Georgia, after countryman Roberto Bautista Agut routed Aleksandre Metreveli 6-0 6-0.

On the other side of Australia, in Brisbane, Djokovic was stretched by former world No.5 Kevin Anderson before eventually sealing a 7-6(5) 7-6(6) win.

That result handed Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead over South Africa, after Dusan Lajovic beat Lloyd Harris in three sets at Pat Rafter Arena.

Yet world No.4 Dominic Thiem was unable to join Nadal and Djokovic on the winners’ list.

The Austrian fell to Borna Coric 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3 in Sydney, after his countryman Denis Novak found Croatia’s Marin Cilic too strong. 

Borna Coric snapped a three-match losing streak to Dominic Thiem at the ATP Cup in Sydney. (Getty Images)

Nadal and Djokovic appear in ominous form early in the year, and will be looking to reprise their Australian Open final of 2019 – which Djokovic won in straight sets – when the year’s first Grand Slam event begins later this month.

Djokovic seeks a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park while Nadal is shooting for a 20th Grand Slam singles title, which would put him equal with men’s leader Roger Federer.

Djokovic started strongly against Anderson, surging to leads of 3-0 and 4-1 before the South African settled.

Anderson, playing his first match since Wimbledon and currently ranked No.91 after six months on the sidelines due to knee surgery, was remarkable in his ability to attain his top level again so quickly.

Playing aggressively and finding the lines repeatedly, he attempted to overpower the world No.2.

Yet Djokovic, known for elevating his game in clutch moments, found a scorching forehand winner deep in the first set tiebreak on his way to taking the first set.

He then read Anderson’s serve correctly to save a set point in the second-set tiebreak before clinching victory in two hours, 19 minutes.

Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory over Kevin Anderson. (Getty Images)

"What a way to start the year,” Djokovic told the vocal Pat Rafter Arena crowd, dotted with many Serbian fans.

"I started off extremely well. Kevin upped his game, and it's so difficult to read his serve – he was on fire tonight. He was playing very aggressive, not too many unforced errors.”

Djokovic admitted he was surprised at how well Anderson played, considering the South African's lengthy injury absence.

"I told him at the net that it's great to see him playing this way, and I hope he can stay healthy,” said the Serb.

“I think the quality of tennis was quite high. I was very pleased with the way I managed to kind of weather the storm.”

Nadal appeared on course for a comfortable victory against Basilashvili when he moved ahead 6-3 5-2 and served for the match. 

Yet the Georgian, playing with his trademark physical intensity and aggression, won three straight games to level the second set. 

"What a way to start the year."
Novak Djokovic

Nadal’s ability to shrug of disappointments and refocus is legendary, and he broke Basilashvili – completely against the tide of momentum – to lead 6-5 before serving out the match for the loss of just one point in the final game.

In his previous outing, Nadal clinched the Davis Cup title for Spain in Madrid in late November.

And, in his first appearance in Perth, he showed just what a force he is when called upon to represent his country.

"Seems like the 2019 season didn't end yet,” he laughed.

"For me is a big honour to play not just for me and my team (but to) play for the rest of the friends and the country, and that's always an extra motivation.

"I'm super happy to be here in Perth for the first time in my life. Amazing experience, one of the nicest arenas that I ever played. And great crowd.

"It's a tough first match of the season; Nikoloz is a great player with great victories on tour. Not an easy start, especially when I had the match under control (with a) double break.”

Earlier on Saturday in Perth, Japan notched a 3-0 win over Uruguay.

In other results, France beat Chile 2-1 in Perth while Argentina overcame Poland 2-1 in Sydney.