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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 11, 2020

Rafa Nadal

Roberto Bautista Agut crushed Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal rallied past Alex de Minaur securing Spain's spot in the ATP Cup final vs. Novak Djokovic-led Serbia.

Photo credit: @ATP Cup

Roberto Bautista Agut was flawless and Rafael Nadal was ferocious sending Spain into a blockbuster ATP Cup final vs. Serbia.

The world No. 1 was fighting fatigue—from winning two matches less than 24 hours earlier vs. Belgium—and a feisty Alex de Minaur who was dictating play with his flat strikes inside a raucous Ken Rosewall Arena.

More: Djokovic Wins Epic, Sends Serbia Into ATP Cup Final

Playing catch-up for much of the first two sets, Nadal hit his stride at 5-all in the second set and shredded into the final.

Sprinting through eight of the last nine games Nadal roared past de Minaur 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 clinching Spain's conquest of Australia in Sydney.

"Tough beginning of the match," Nadal told Sam Smith afterward. "Alex has been playing at a very very high level. For me, the energy the was lower than usual. Yesterday has been a very long day with very heavy conditions.

"It's a very emotional evening for me. A pleasure playing in front of all of you guys as always been fantatic. Even if we are here in Australia, this is a country that has a big respect for the sport so I can't thank you enough everyone for this and the support always."

Spanish No. 2 Bautista Agut did not face a break point dismissing Nick Kyrgios 6-1, 6-4 in an 81-minute thrashing to open the day's second semifinal.

Spain will play Serbia in Sunday's blockbuster ATP Cup final pitting world No. 1 Nadal against the Serbian squad led by second-ranked Novak Djokovic and a resurgent Dusan Lajovic. 

A year ago, a dazzling Djokovic demolished Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, rolling to a record seventh Australian Open championship in a profound performance to claim his 15th career Grand Slam crown.

Nadal's plan for the rematch starts with some major shut-eye.

"First of all try to sleep a little bit before than 5:30 in the morning like yesterday and just try to be ready," Nadal said. "We know it's gonna be a super-tough final against Novak that he likes a lot to play here he has a lot of great results.

"And Serbia has a great team. They are playing very well so let's see. We hope to be ready. Roberto played an amazing match this afternoon. We have a good team too so it will be a tough battle. We hope to be ready for it."

After Bautista Agut completely disarmed the explosive Kyrgios, a fired-up de Minaur looked ready for anything.

The slender Aussie straddled the baseline, took the ball on the rise and spit back Nadal's topspin with flat strikes that sent the Spaniard chasing.

Though de Minaur was not serving big, he exploited Nadal's deep court position on the return often sliding off-pace slice serves wide on the deuce side to open the court. De Minaur broke in Nadal's opening service game and made it stand snatching a one-set lead as Aussie fans, including Hall of Famer Rosewall himself, were waving the nation's flag in celebration.

Facing the prospect of a second-set tie break as he had in his loss to David Goffin yesterday, Nadal summoned the gladiator within. Curling a sharp-angled forehand crosscourt, Nadal earned his first break point of the evening.

On a second serve, Nadal, whose return was sporadic to that point, framed a forehand return then slightly mis-hit a forehand that fell in drawing a netted error to break to close out the second set with a clenched fist.

On even terms for the first time all day, Nadal amped up his aggression and ferocity storming through six straight games.

An astounding 19-shot rally saw Nadal flick back a defensive lob and de Minaur found the tape with a drop shot as Nadal scored his third straight break for a commanding 4-0 final-set lead.

De Minaur stopped his six-game slide exploiting Nadal's double fault to get on the board.

That was a short-lived reprieve for Australia.

A fist-pumping Nadal broke right back for 5-1, wrapping up a fierce two hour, 13-minute victory to send Spain into the final. 

"Rafa is a great champion and sometimes you don't have to talk too much to him because he always finds the solutions," Spanish captain Francisco Roig said. "We try to help here on the bench. Today, Alex started with a lot of energy. Rafa had a tough day yesterday.

"Rafa changed the match slowly. At the end he played a great match. I think this helps him for tomorrow."


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