Djokovic beats Nadal to keep Serbia alive in ATP Cup final
SYDNEY – Novak Djokovic recorded a straight-sets victory over long-time rival Rafael Nadal on Sunday to keep Serbia's hopes alive in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup team event in Sydney.
Djokovic won 6-2 7-6(4), extending his dominance over the Spaniard on hardcourts, a surface Nadal has not beaten him on since 2013.
The tie will be decided by a high-stakes doubles contest that Nadal said he would not take part in following a team decision made after his match.
Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut earlier completed a flawless tournament by defeating Serbia's Dusan Lajovic 7-5 6-1.
Djokovic has created the blueprint to beat the Spaniard on hardcourts, although he is one of the very few players good enough to follow the instructions.
The Serbian held his line, and was rarely pushed back deep into the court by the Spaniard's heavy spin, a position from which Nadal usually dictates terms.
"There were some incredible exchanges today," Djokovic told reporters. "I started off the match perfectly really, everything worked for me."
Djokovic broke Nadal's serve in the first game in an atmosphere resembling a Belgrade football match. The noise weighed on Nadal, who at one stage gave a sarcastic thumbs-up gesture to his rival's supporters.
"The respect for both players should be there," Nadal said.
While he is the undisputed king of clay, Nadal hasn't taken a set off Djokovic played on a hardcourt in nine attempts since his 2013 U.S. Open victory.
After a dominant first set marked by Djokovic's strong serving, the contest tightened. Nadal employed more attacking serve-volley tactics, and settled into a harder-hitting rhythm.
Trailing 0-40 on his serve in the sixth game, Djokovic looked likely to crack, but the Spaniard was unable to convert.
The second set was decided in a tiebreak, ending when Nadal netted a forehand.
Spain will now rely on a doubles combination that does not feature the world's top-ranked player, although it is spoiled for choice boasting a squad that recently won the Davis Cup.
Pablo Carreno Busta will partner with late substitute Feliciano Lopez for Spain, while Djokovic will play with veteran Victor Troicki for Serbia.