BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Novak Djokovic patted the left side of his chest above his heart with his right hand, wished his Serbian supporters a Merry Christmas, and told everyone else listening: “See you in Sydney.”
The seven-time Australian Open champion won his singles and doubles matches back-to-back to guide Serbia to a comeback win over France on Monday and secure a spot in the ATP Cup quarterfinals.
Djokovic saved all nine break points he faced against ninth-ranked Gael Monfils in a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the singles, leveling the match after Benoit Paire had beaten Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 in the opening match to give France a 1-0 lead.
With Pat Rafter Arena packed with flag-waving, chanting Serbs, the atmosphere for the deciding doubles encounter was like a compact soccer stadium. Djokovic needed treatment above his right elbow in the second set and lost a point for encroachment — when the French called for a review of his volley at the net — before he and Viktor Troicki beat Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 10-3 at 12:37 a.m. in Brisbane. Serbia leads Group A with two wins.
“We love playing for our country,” Djokovic said in an on-court TV interview before sending a message in his native tongue to Serbia, where Christmas was being celebrated on Tuesday.
“It was phenomenal. Serbian people, I mean, I didn’t expect, to be honest, so many of them staying all the way through and basically being on a Christmas Day with us post-midnight, which is amazing,” Djokovic said. “We want to thank them. And for me it was a great day in the office, singles and doubles. We qualified as the best team in the group, secured our spot in Sydney in quarters.”
Top-ranked Rafael Nadal also thrives in the team environment.
Weeks after leading Spain to the Davis Cup title, the traditional men’s team event, Nadal is doing his best to do it again at the ATP Cup, the newest of the international team competitions.
Nadal beat Pablo Cuevas 6-2, 6-1 to secure Spain’s win in the best-of-three encounter against Uruguay in Perth ahead of the doubles. Spain now has two wins from two starts in Group B and next faces unbeaten Japan to determine first place and automatic qualification for the playoffs in Sydney.
“It was a positive victory. I played a very solid match, my serve worked better than the first day,” Nadal said. “Returning I think very well from the baseline. I think I played some very good rallies.”
Roberto Bautista Agut was equally ruthless in getting Spain started when he beat unranked Franco Roncadelli 6-1, 6-2.
The six group winners and the two best second-place teams qualify for the quarterfinals.
In other tennis action, Naomi Osaka got an extended workout in her opening match at the Brisbane International, just two weeks away from the defense of her Australia Open title.
Osaka defeated Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 on Tuesday to set up a second-round match with American Sofia Kenin.
The two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 took more than two hours and had 16 aces to beat Sakkari.
“I’m really happy with how I served — I had to retire from my last match because of my shoulder thing, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to serve today,” she said.
“But I was told I hit 16 aces, so that’s pretty good for me.”
In other matches Tuesday, eighth-seeded Madison Keys beat Czech qualifier Maria Bouzkova 6-2, 6-3. Keys will now face local favorite Samantha Stosur in the second round.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova came back from a poor first set to defeat Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, while American qualifier Jennifer Brady downed Russia’s Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova, a former world No. 1, was granted a wildcard into the event but although winning the first set, she eventually succumbed 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).