Novak Djokovic extended his supremacy on hardcourts against Rafael Nadal to level the inaugural ATP Cup final and then prepared to go back out for the doubles to try to lift Serbia over Spain.
Second-ranked Djokivic had a 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over top-ranked Nadal on Sunday night, increasing his lead to 29-26 in their career head-to-heads. Nadal hasn't beaten Djokovic on a hard surface since the 2013 U.S. Open final.
The plan was for the world's two top-ranked players to go at it again in the doubles, but Nadal withdrew from Spain's combination and was replaced by Feliciano Lopez.
Roberto Bautista Agut had given Spain a 1-0 lead, and maintained his unbeaten streak at the ATP Cup, with a 7-5, 6-1 win in over Dusan Lajovic in the first singles match. The No. 10-ranked Bautista Agut didn't drop a set in six singles wins, including three in the group stage in Perth, at the tournament.
Nadal was listed to partner Pablo Carreno Busta in the doubles, but tournament rules allowed team captains to change their combinations between matches. And Lopez was slotted in for a weary Nadal.
“I have been playing a lot of tennis the last couple of days. My level of energy is a little bit lower than usual, because I played long yesterday, very long before yesterday, very long in (Perth)," Nadal said. “So is a team decision, and we believe in our team. That's why we had success in the past, because we were able to give the confidence to the rest of the players, and we give the confidence to Feliciano and Pablo."
After playing six singles matches and two doubles matches in 10 days — on both the west and east coasts of Australia — less than two months after guiding Spain to the Davis Cup title in Madrid, Nadal urged the International Tennis Federation and the ATP to negotiate to form one world team championship.
“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."
Spain's early lead put extra pressure on Djokovic, a seven-time Australian Open champion, to keep Serbia in contention. He hadn't lost a singles match at the new 24-team tournament, and started like losing wasn't a consideration.
“We get to play a lot of exciting points. There were some incredible exchanges today," Djokovic said. “I started off the match, perfectly, really. Everything worked for me. Serve got me out of trouble in the second set."
He broke Nadal's serve in the opening game, which lasted eight minutes and included two requests from the umpire to the crowd to keep quiet during the service motion.
Djokovic held for a 2-0 lead, the game going to deuce, and then didn't concede a point on serve for his next three games, closing the set in 39 minutes with three straight aces.
Nadal, meanwhile, was struggling to hold, with Djokovic typically relentless with his returns. After Nadal was broken for the second time, in the seventh game, he went to the chair umpire in the changeover, likely about the noise during his service swing, and held his thumb up to the crowd as he walked back to his team zone.
The Spaniard found his range on serve in the second set, though, conceding just a point in each of his first three service games. He had also had a huge opportunity to go up a break in the sixth game, but was unable to convert five chances as Djokovic rallied from 0-40 to hold.
Djokovic then had two breakpoints in the 11th game, which would have given him the chance to serve for the match, but Nadal rallied from 15-40 to hold and it was almost inevitable that the set finish in a tiebreaker.
Djokovic had a nervy start, serving a double-fault to fall behind 2-1, but after his forehand clipped the net and landed in to level the tiebreaker, he started to gain control. From 4-4, he won every point, starting the roll with a backhand winner down the line and finishing off when Nadal netted on match point.
The crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena, chanted Serbia, Serbia and Serbia, Nole, Nole, Nole.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)