Novak Djokovic was significantly tested by Kevin Anderson in his first match of the new season and apologised to fans for losing his cool.
After admitting he was surprised by how hard he was pushed by Kevin Anderson in his ATP Cup opener, Novak Djokovic has apologised for his outburst at Serbian fans in Brisbane.
Djokovic won his first match of the season 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6) after being challenged all the way by Anderson, who narrowly lost the first tie-break and had a set point on his own serve in the second.
The world number two emerged from the battle that lasted two hours and 19 minutes victorious, helping Serbia to a 3-0 win over South Africa in their opening ATP Cup tie.
But having surrendered a 4-1 advantage in the opening set, which he still ultimately managed to win, Djokovic cut a frustrated figure at one stage in his first match of the new decade.
Over the course of two points, he was initially unhappy with umpire Mohamed Lahyani that he could not challenge a line call.
Djokovic also hit the ball onto the stadium roof and then shouted while angrily pointing at Serbian fans in the crowd who had been calling out during the points.
His fans and Djokovic soon shrugged off the incident as he went on to win a gruelling second set.
The 32-year-old continued to be well supported by the impressive Serbian fanbase for the rest of the match and they thundered down applause after he sealed the hard-earned victory.
You could tell by his ecstatic post-match celebrations that it had been far from a routine win.
Afterwards, he said sorry for his passion spilling over at a key moment.
“The Serbian crowd was a little too excited,” Novak Djokovic, who appeared much more relaxed, said following his win.
“It [the outburst] was in the heat of the moment and I am sorry if I offended anyone.”
Of the fans calling out in points, Djokovic added: “It happened a couple of points in a row and at 3-2 in the tie-breaker I didn’t need them interfering in the point.
“But I am thankful for their support. It was a Davis Cup-like atmosphere. The Serbian guys showed great passion.
“I was really pleasantly surprised and I’m very grateful to all the fans coming out and being patient, staying all the way to the end match, it was a pleasure to play in front of you.”
Anderson was playing his first match for six months after recovering from serious elbow and knee injuries that curtailed his 2019 season. Djokovic conceded he had been taken by surprise by the level of the two-time major finalist’s play on his return.
The Serbian is optimistic that having such a competitive match in his first contest of the new year will stand him in good stead and told Anderson at the net that he hopes to see him make a return to the top of the game.
Djokovic’s serve was on point and, as ever, he produced some clutch play when it mattered most on the key points. He felt he had “weathered the storm” as he made a winning start to 2020.
“What a way to start the year,” he said. “I started extremely well. Kevin upped his game and it’s so difficult to read his serve. He was on fire.
“The quality of tennis was quite high, I was very pleased with the way I kind of managed to weather the storm, he was playing very aggressive and not too many unforced errors.
“I’m pretty pleased with my game. To be honest, considering the fact that he was playing at the very high level, I thought it was a fantastic match
“He had a set point, I read his serve. In these kind of matches only a few points decide the winner.”
Anderson was positive about his own performance in defeat, saying he had gone “toe-to-toe” with Djokovic after initially making a nervous start in an extremely difficult first assignment on his court comeback.
France beat Chile 2-1 in the other Group A tie and it is they who will meet Serbia next, with Novak Djokovic poised for what could be another great battle against Gael Monfils.