SYDNEY (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal secured a comeback victory against Australian Alex De Minaur at the Sydney ATP Cup on Saturday, pushing Spain into the final of the inaugural event to play with the Serbian team led by Novak Djokovic.
Tennis – ATP Cup – Ken Rosewall Arena, Sydney, Australia – 11 January 2020 Spaniard Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his singles semifinal against Australia Alex de Minaur REUTERS / Edgar Su
The first player in the world was ambushed by the young Australian, who threatened to escape with the game, before the Spaniard recovered to win 4-6 7-5 6-1.
Earlier in the evening, Roberto Bautista Agut played an almost flawless game to defeat an infallible Nick Kyrgios 6-1 6-4, giving Spain an unassailable advantage by going into the doubles game.
The 20-year-old De Minaur, who had not previously won a set against the Spaniard, threw his frame with every shot, breaking Nadal’s serve in the first game of the game before continuing to take the set.
The Australian jumped into his back, such was his determination to launch forward and threw himself into the air to hit his punishments, all refusing to be rejected by Nadal’s evil topspin.
Nadal, one of the most dangerous players he was served against, notoriously didn’t gain a break point in Australian service until late in the second set, which he converted despite enjoying little momentum to that point.
Nadal then canceled four games to establish the victory in the third set when De Minaur’s error count increased and the Spaniard found his range.
In the other semifinal, world number two Novak Djokovic played tactical tennis to overcome the enigmatic Daniil Medvedev in a three-set game, which secured Serbia’s place in the final.
The Serbian won the competition 6-1 5-7 6-4 after finding success by pushing the Russian 198 cm (6.5 ft) tall on the pitch, forcing Medvedev to constantly scrape the shoots from the shoes.
Previously, Serbian Dusan Lajovic beat his most authoritative opponent, Russia’s Karen Khachanov, giving Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead by going into the doubles game.
Less than two weeks after the Australian Open, Djokovic gave the best players in the world a possible plan on how to beat the 23-year-old Russian who overthrew the game’s elite.
While Medvedev’s right to slap, flat back and great serve proved difficult to tackle, Djokovic used dropshots and low backhands to slice to bring the number five to the world in difficult places.
“I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do – and it worked out great, but then he started to understand it,” said Djokovic.
Medvedev, who was undefeated in the ATP Cup during the match, recovered the challenge, prompting Djokovic to destroy a racket that a young Serbian supporter later claimed as a memento.
Djokovic’s energy stores seemed exhausted even though players were enjoying a break from the intense heat that fueled forest fires across Australia.
The introduction of the ATP Cup into the southern hemisphere calendar created the most grueling and enjoyable start to the Australian tennis season in memory, as the world’s best male players chase cash prizes, leaderboard points and a team trophy rather than playing in the hot grand slam-up events.
“At some point we both refused to lose,” said Djokovic.
“There have been many gatherings and it has been very tiring, a very physical battle but also a mental battle.”
Djokovic secured a service break in the fifth game and his service remained firm for the rest, which ended when the Russian scored a coup de grace.
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett to Sydney; Curated by Shri Navaratnam and Christian Radnedge