A lethargic world number one Rafael Nadal suffered a stunning upset at the ATP Cup on Friday, crashing in two tough sets to Belgium´s David Goffin.
The Spaniard was heavily favoured to win the match and secure Spain a berth in the semi-finals after Roberto Bautista Agut eased past Kimmer Coppejans 6-1, 6-4 in the first singles match.
But the 19-time Grand Slam winner slumped 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) to the 11th-ranked Belgium — a rare defeat for Nadal while playing for his country.
It sent the tie into a decisive doubles match to determine who meets Australia in the last four.
“I had to hold my nerve for a long time, which wasn´t easy,” Goffin said. “I knew against Rafa I had to take the ball early and take more risk. I was in the court trying to dictate and he had to find a solution.”
Spain´s group games during the round-robin phase of the inaugural team event were played in Perth, where the air was much drier.
Nadal, who had not dropped a set this year before meeting Goffin, faced not only heat but energy-sapping humidity in Sydney and struggled to deal with it, dripping in sweat for much of the match.
He was not on song and struggled to find his rhythm, giving away nine break points in the first set. Goffin had two more break points to go 5-3 up in the second, but Nadal clung on and became more offensive to take the match to a tiebreak before the Belgian closed out the match for one of the biggest wins in his career.
Novak Djokovic had an almost full house on his side at Ken Rosewell Arena, and felt like he needed to be a responsible host for his guests.
There was a delay in the 10th game of the third set of his ATP Cup quarterfinal match against Denis Shapovalov on Friday when a spectator needed medical attention from paramedics and Djokovic, despite being down 0-30 while serving for the match, took a bottle of water over toward the stadium seating and asked the crowd to pass it along.
He got back level at 30-30 in that game before Shapovalov broke to level the set at 5-5. The Canadian saved a breakpoint in the next game but after it went to a tiebreaker following 2 1/2 hours, Djokovic seized control by winning the first five points and then finished off a comeback 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) .
Dusan Lajovic had earlier beaten Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-2 and so Djokovic’s win sealed the quarterfinal ahead of the doubles match, giving Serbia a spot in the semifinals against Russia.
“That was so close, it could have gone in a different way easily. (Shapovalov) was playing terrific tennis,” Djokovic said. “It felt, not a little bit, fully like I’m playing at home.”
Djokovic, who has won a record seven Australian Open men’s singles titles, was playing in Sydney for the first time in a decade after going 3-0 in singles in the ATP Cup group stage in Brisbane.
“I’m mean, Brisbane we had amazing support – but this has taken it to a different level,” Djokovic said. “All the Serbian people came out today.” The temperature topped topped 33 Celsius (91 F) during the match, and it was hazy outside with a lack of breeze, making the conditions inside the arena stifling.
Djokovic endured it all to extend his record to 5-0 against Shapovalov. The constant chants and even a burst of trumpet from the flag-waving Serbian fans certainly helped him, he said. The 16-major winner reveled in the team environment, with his teammates and coaches on the side of the court, and the echo of “Nole, Nole, Nole” going around the stadium.
Shapovalov complained about the noise made as he served a double-fault to fall behind 4-0 in the tiebreaker, and the umpire asked the crowd to keep quiet during the service motion.—AFP