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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 12, 2020

Novak Djokovic

"At this level one point, one shot probably decides the winner. Really glad to hold my nerves in the end," Novak Djokovic said after defeating Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 7-6 in the ATP Cup final.

Photo credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images/ATP Cup Facebook

The screams of Serbian fans chanting his name were echoing in Novak Djokovic's ears.

A spirited Djokovic answered the call subduing arch rival Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-6(4) in an impressive performance to send the dizzying drama of the inaugural ATP Cup final into the climactic doubles at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.

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In a rematch of the 2019 Australian Open final, Djokovic maintained hard-court mastery of Nadal scoring his ninth straight hard-court triumph over the world No. 1 to take a 29-26 lead in the most prolific rivalry in ATP history.

Djokovic torched 12 aces, permitted just eight points on first serve, denied all five break points he faced in a tense sixth game of the second set and beat Nadal with proactive court positioning.

"Every time I get to play Rafa we get to play a lot of exciting points—some incredible exchanges today," Djokovic told Jim Courier afterward. "I started off the match perfectly, really, everything worked for me. I think serve got me out of trouble in the second set when it was love-40. If he had broke my serve at that moment then the match could have easily gone to a third set and then it's anybody's game.

"At this level one point, one shot probably decides the winner. Really glad to hold my nerves in the end."

Now the doubles match will decide the ATP Cup champion. Djokovic and childhood buddy Viktor Troicki will take on Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez in the decisive doubles. Nadal, the reigning Olympic gold-medal doubles champion, opted out due to the lingering fatigue from his recent singles battles.

"I have been playing a lot of tennis in last couple of days," Nadal said after bowing in singles. "My teammates have been playing great yesterday. My level of energy is a little bit lower than usual because I played long yesterday, very long before yesterday, very long the last day.

"So it's a team decision and we believe in our team that's why we had success in the past. Because we are able to give confidence to the rest of the players. We give confidence to Feliciano and Pablo they are doing well. We gonnna support them and hopefully they have a good day."

Spanish No. 2 Roberto Bautista Agut opened the final defeating Dusan Lajovic 7-5, 6-1, to put the defending Davis Cup champions one win from the ATP Cup.

Bautista Agut broke serve five times extending his ATP Cup record to a perfect 6-0.

“Dusan is playing at a great level but I played a very good match from my side,” Bautista Agut said. “He was aggressive and stepping inside the baseline to manage the game, but I believed I could change it and I played a great end of the first set and a great second set.”

Episode 55 between arch rivals began with Djokovic exerting his familiar hard-court edge from the outset.

Straddling the baseline to take the ball on the rise, Djokovic applied aggressive court positioning setting the tone breaking to open then confirming the break for 2-0.

Pushed back behind the baseline, Nadal tried employing the slice backhand to gunk up the gears of Djokovic's baseline attack. Djokovic drilled a backhand return coaxing an errant forehand from Nadal off the back foot to break again for 5-2 as Serbian fans erupted in an explosion of emotion.

A sharp Djokovic snapped off successive aces sealing the 39-minute opener at love. Djokovic dominated the set smacking 11 winners compared to four for the world No. 1.

It was Djokovic's 18th straight set won on hard court over Nadal and sent the reigning US Open champion back to the locker room to try to regroup before the second set.

Sometimes pushed six feet behind the baseline in the first set, Nadal tried to shorten the gap in the second set. The depth of Djokovic's dives combined with the fact Nadal's topspin forehand was not getting his typical trampoline effect off the blue hard court.

Still, the Spaniard stuck a sprinting forehand down the line and followed smacking an ace sealing his strongest hold for a 3-2 second-set lead.

Back to the wall, a resurgent Nadal earned triple break point in the sixth game. Djokovic dug in and denied all three, saved a fourth break point blasting an ace out wide, then slid an ace down the T to fight off a fifth break point. Djokovic withstood the turbulence hammering a crosscourt forehand to complete a hard-fought hold as Serbian fans chanted "Nole! Nole!"

Spreading his serve around the box, Nadal stamped his second love hold of the match for 5-4.

A crackling rally abruptly shifted course on a Djokovic drop shot. Nadal ran it down, but a clever Djokovic lob coaxed a leaping error for double break point in the 11th game. Both men were grunting with vigor when Nadal stuck a low volley that eluded the slipping Serbian and landed smack on the baseline erasing the first break point.

The world No. 1 defended a deep return before tomahawking his two-hander down the line for deuce. Soaring for a smash, a fired-up Nadal shouted in defiance holding for 6-5.

The tie break was deadlocked 4-all when Djokovic spiked a backhand strike down the line for the mini break. Nadal bent over in frustration when he scattered slice backhand wide to faced double match point. When Nadal netted an inside-out forehand, Djokovic thrust his arms toward the sky leveling the final. 


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