Jan/20

13

Serbia Conquers Spain For ATP Cup

By Jayita A Belcourt           

This year’s showdown at the inaugural ATP Cup Finals in Sydney between team Serbia and team Spain, was nothing short of epic. In what could only be described as an awe-inspiring performance, Novak Djokovic lead his country to a jubilant triumph amidst a packed Ken Rosewall Arena chanting “Novak, Novak, Novak” throughout the night.  

With the impressively consistent Roberto Bautista Aust securing Spain 1-0 up in the best-of-three tie over Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic in the opening match, all eyes turned to Novak Djokovic to overcome world number 1 Rafael Nadal to keep Serbia alive. Despite Djokovic’s impeccable current record of eight consecutive hardcourt wins over Nadal, most anticipated the match to be a gruelling battle like other countless grand-slam clashes between the worlds 2 best players. But Novak played with such precision and finesse to extend his hardcourt domination, taking down Nadal with a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) victory. And it didn’t just end there. Novak’s performance continued to soar as he teamed up with Victor Troicki to clinch the deciding doubles rubber 6-3, 6-4 over Spain’s Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno Busta.

In typical spoiler fashion, Nadal had reasons for Spain’s downfall, citing his “level of energy is a little bit lower than usual” because of his previous matches (against Belgium’s David Goffin and Australia’s Alex de Minaur) and travels from Perth. The crowd’s approval and support of his opposition did not help Nadal’s cause either, with the 33-year-old suggesting “they [the crowd] probably don’t understand how the tennis goes”. He continued, “They think it’s about football or this stuff and atmosphere in tennis is different, no? The respect for the players should be there, and at some point I think the respect with small part of the crowd have been not there.”

The Spaniard was also critical of the timing of the ATP Cup amidst a closely scheduled Davis Cup suggesting the need for the creation of a single “World Cup”.

“Is a long competition. Is a tough way to start the season,” the world number 1 said.

“I think it [the ATP Cup] is a great competition, but at the same time I can’t change my mind that two World Cups in one month [it’s actually over 2 months!] is not real. So is not possible,” Nadal continued.

“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 World Cups in one month. I think that’s a confusion for the spectators, and we need to be clear in our sport. And for the health of our sport and for the benefit of our sport is, in my opinion, mandatory that we fix it.”

One has to wonder whether the 19-time major champion would have been so critical had Spain come away with the victory at the inaugural ATP Cup. I suspect not.

Nonetheless, Nadal’s remarks could not detract from the effort of the Serbian team. Overjoyed with emotions, Novak thanked the crowds for their results tonight and highlighted winning this ATP Cup for his country – with his friends, his teammates in front of his fans – was one of his career highlights.

“I have never experienced such a support in my matches ever anywhere, and I have played the biggest stadiums in tennis, and this was something different,” Djokovic shared with joy.

“I will remember this experience for the rest of my life as definitely one of the nicest moments in my career for sure.” His words were echoed by team-mate Victor Troicki who said “the fans helped us so much. I want to thank them.”

Witnessing Team Serbia play and train at the ATP Cup, it was evident the unity, support and comradery felt between the players was exceptional – both on and off the court. With a visit to a koala sanctuary and friendly soccer matches in their spare time, the teambuilding and bonding experienced between the players was undoubtedly one of the pivotal reasons behind Serbia’s success. Novak was also able to lead, thrive and inspire as a 16-time grand slam champion should be able to do. Indeed, to finally shine in his own-right, away from the spotlight of tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have so often overshadowed his success with their overwhelming popularity and stature.

Novak’s elation at the result could not be contained. He said “I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to have amazing career last 15 years, but playing for the team, playing for the country with some of my best friends for long long time is, you can’t match that. Too special”.

“The highlight that I will take is not just the trophy but is the energy and chemistry and friendship we share between each other, and the bond is stronger and stronger obviously with these kind of experiences.”

“This has been, and I keep repeating that, one of the highlights of my career, because you can’t really match any big win in tennis with the win that you get to share with your team, with your friends, with the people that I have known for the biggest part of my life. So it has been an amazing event.”

Serbia’s Victor Troicki added “I want to thank Novak for playing with me again. It was a great experience like always. I remember playing with him since we were 9 or 10. To share such a moment on the court with him [Novak], I cannot describe it with words. As you said, I will remember it for the rest of my life. It is unreal and I want to thank the whole team, without them, we would not be able to do this.”

Novak’s formidable form, positive mindset and passionate for the sport and his country is undoubtedly going to leave him as favourite going into this year’s Australian Open starting January 20.

Can the 16-time grand slam champion continue his dream run and make it 8 Australian Open titles?

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2 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Very nice article Jayita. This experience was very special for Djokovic, Troicki and team, to play together since age 9 and come full circle to this career stage in their 30s for two close friends is a feel good story. Tremendous event and Djokovic’s character stock improved again. I can actually see the day when Djokovic becomes as beloved and admired worldwide as Rafa and Federer. On the other side, Nadal making excuses is fully acceptable. He’s ticked off after this devastating loss and all great champions try to find the reasons why it happened I believe match play and travel fatigue were factors and even if just a fractional factor, we know that’s all it takes. This final was an incredible match, Djokovic was forced to play his very best. Then he bounced right back and did it again in the doubles where he is not a dominant force and his doubles results are rather average. Even when Rafa and Djokovic were much younger, though Rafa won many of the duels, it was always evident Djokovic was so close to him and caused him trouble. It was evident that Djokovic always has had the capacity to solve the Rafa puzzle, even on clay. Which I can see happening at Roland Garros this year, in emphatic fashion.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 13, 2020 at 8:54 am

    Interesting Coffee Bowl G1 finals in Costa Rica. Leo Borg made it to the finals and Mi Lan won the girls title vs Alexia Harmon 63 62. This event is huge, Vilas, Borg, Federer, Bagdhatis, Delpo, Isner, Keys, Cibulkova, Goerges, Zvonareva, Petkovic, Puig, Anisimova have won it. It is broadcast on TV and they even sell tickets for it. Nice little intimate stadium too with many sponsors. Big time event. Congrats to Lan, it’s her first ITF win.

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