Djokovic doubles up, leads Serbia into ATP Cup quarterfinals

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              Ivan Dodig of Croatia reacts to winning the doubles match against Hubert Hurkacz and Lukasz Kubot of Poland during their ATP Cup tennis doubles match in Sydney, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Christo)
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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — 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), 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 (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 Jan. 7.

“Ït 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 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 19-year-old Franco Roncadelli 6-1, 6-2.

The six group winners and the two best second-place teams qualify for the quarterfinals.

Austria clinched victory over Argentina with wins in both singles matches in the Sydney-based group. Fourth-ranked Dominic Thiem beat Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 7-6 (3) after Dennis Novak rallied from a slow start to beat Guido Pella 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Both countries are 1-1 in the Group E standings, which are led by unbeaten Croatia.

Novak, ranked No. 101, said a few pointers from Austria captain Thomas Muster helped calm him down after the first set.

“After the first set I went to a break with Thomas, and I came out and changed a little bit my game and fought back,” Novak said. “I think at the end I played really good tennis.”

Former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic had too much experience for No. 448-ranked Kacper Zuk, setting up Croatia’s victory over Poland with a 7-6 (8), 6-4 win.

Hubert Hurkacz beat Borna Coric 6-2, 6-2 to split the singles results, but Croatia pair Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic clinched the encounter with a 6-2, 6-1 win in the doubles over Hurkacz and Lukasz Kubot.

Two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson led South Africa to victory over Chile earlier in Group A, keeping his team in contention for the playoffs despite an opening loss to Serbia.

Anderson, who is coming off a six-month injury layoff and pushed Djokovic in two tight sets over the weekend, outclassed Cristian Garin 6-0, 6-3 after Lloyd Harris beat Nicolas Jarry 6-4, 6-4. The South African doubles combination made it a 3-0 sweep.

Anderson said the goal was now to win the last round of the group stage to have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

“Some of it is out of our hands as well, already having, well, taking the loss against Serbia,” he said. “We’ll bring back our full intensity for our match against France.”

Japan followed up its 3-0 sweep against Uruguay with its win over Georgia. Go Soeda beat Aleksandre Metreveli 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and Yoshihito Nishioka upset No. 26-ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-3. Georgia won the doubles to make the final result 2-1.