ATP Cup 2020 Review: Djokovic guides Team Serbia to glory, Nadal's problems resurface
'New format, same old rivalries' was the story of the just-concluded ATP Cup as Team Serbia over-powered Team Spain make history in Sydney.
In the final, the Spanish armada began in sensational style as the unsung hero of Team Spain, Roberto Bautista Agut, cruised to a comprehensive 7-5, 6-1 victory over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic to open his team's account on the points table.
Such was the consistency of Bautista Agut throughout the course of the tournament, that his early victory ensured that there was always a cushion for their team’s main man, Rafael Nadal, each time he stepped out on the court.
The match that followed Bautista Agut’s victory was a blockbuster contest that everyone was waiting for, as Nadal and Novak Djokovic made their way to the Ken Rosewall Arena for their 55th meeting overall on the ATP tour, and their 26th face-off in the final.
Djokovic won the first set 6-2 after breaking Nadal’s serve right away, in scenes reminiscent of the way the Australian Open final of 2019 unfolded. However, Nadal was determined not to go down without a fight, and the second set that spanned well over an hour saw no break of serves form either player. In the tie-break, in spite of securing a mini break early on, the Spaniard failed to consolidate, as his unimpressive record in the tie-breakers came back to haunt him. Djokovic won the contest in straight-sets 6-2, 7-6(7-4) to level the final at 1-1, keeping Serbia’s hopes alive.
Nadal opted not to play in the deciding doubles contest, citing a drop in his energy levels after his loss against the World No.2. Djokovic pairing alongside Viktor Troicki downed the Spanish pair of Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-4, single-handedly helping his team lift the inaugural ATP Cup.
While Nadal has been dominant against everybody else, he has problems aplenty when he faces his arch-rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer. Nadal suffered his ninth consecutive loss against the unyielding Serb on hard courts; in fact his last win over Djokovic in a hard-court match came more than six years ago, at the US Open 2013 when the Spaniard defeated the Serb in four sets to win his 2nd title at New York.
On the contrary, 2020 season has begun spectacularly for Novak Djokovic, and he has remained unbeaten throughout the course of ATP Cup, recording memorable victories over the likes of Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov. Djokovic leading his team to the title triumph at the ATP Cup augurs extremely well for him as he hopes to defend his Australian Open title, with the tournament starting next week..
Daniil Medvedev might have lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals, but has made promising start to his 2020 campaign with impressive wins over Fabio Fognini, John Isner and Diego Schwartzman. After a prolific 2019, has a great chance to go the distance in the upcoming first Slam of the year at Melbourne.
Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur shone brightly for Team Australia, helping the hosts qualify for the semi-final in Sydney. Their doubles quarter-final tie against Great Britain’s Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury was perhaps the most iconic contest of this year’s ATP Cup, as they earned victory by coming from behind. 3-6, 6-3, (18-16) to slide their team into the semis.
The 2019 Nitto ATP finals runner-up, Dominic Thiem, promised so much towards the back end of the last season, but was a lacklusture version of himself as he succumbed to twin losses against Borna Coric and Humbert Hurkacz, thereby failing to lift his team in the round of final eight.
With three losses in as many matches, Germany’s Alexander Zverev had a forgettable ATP Cup, and his chances at the Australian Open appear to be extremely bleak as his troubling run of form continues with each passing tournament. The young sensation, who rose to stardom in 2017 and 2018, desperately needs to resurrect his career if he has serious designs on wining any major tournaments in near future. Only time will tell if he can rise like a phoenix from the Ashes, whether he'll be lost in the mayhem of self-doubts and disappointments.
The inaugural edition of the ATP Cup certainly lived up to his expectations, and has thrown us a few possibilities and questions as we ready ourselves for the first 'Slam of the year, which gets underway in Melbourne next Monday.