It is six-and-a-half years since Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic on a hard court, a streak that lives on after Serbia tasted ATP Cup glory.
Novak Djokovic enjoyed a memorable day after he defeated Rafael Nadal in their ATP Cup final showdown and then returned to the court to guide Serbia to victory in the decisive doubles.
Serbia came from behind to defeat Spain 2-1 in Sydney on Sunday, winning the first edition of the new team competition after Nadal’s nation had claimed the Davis Cup Finals in November.
Roberto Bautista Agut had given Spain a fantastic start with a comfortable straight sets win over Dusan Lajovic.
Then came the big one, as the two countries’ top singles players, as well as the world’s highest-ranked stars, did battle.
It was Djokovic who came out on top with a 6-2 7-6 (7-4) win in one hour and 55 minutes.
Djokovic broke in the first game of the match and kicked on from there, with Nadal unable to strike on the Serbian’s serve at all during the contest, despite having five break points midway through the second set.
The Spaniard was visibly frustrated by the pro-Serbia crowd at points in the match and said afterwards there should be respect shown to both players.
Nadal was dejected, though he took some positives from the fight he showed in the second set.
The 33-year-old felt he had generated chances and competed well having barely challenged Djokovic in the opener.
Djokovic, meanwhile was thrilled to have served better than he had done all tournament, which was a decisive factor.
After a gruelling few days, Nadal opted not to play the decisive doubles, instead backing teammates Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez to get the job done.
But Djokovic and Viktor Troicki won 6-3 6-4 to spark jubilant scenes for Serbia.
After his serve went unreturned on championship point, Djokovic dropped to the floor before hugging Troicki and promptly being mobbed by his teammates.
Per the ATP Tour, Novak Djokovic called the victory unforgettable.
“I’ll remember this experience for the rest of my life as definitely one of the nicest moments in my career.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have an amazing career the last 15 years, but playing for the team, playing for the country with some of my best friends for a long, long time, you can’t match that. That’s just too special.
“I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like this on a tennis court. You [the fans] carried us to victory and we owe you a big, big thanks. You always have a team in your corner giving you strength and focus. This was the highlight of the competition, along with the support of fans and the flags.”
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal on hard courts
Many wondered why Djokovic was still widely rated as Australian Open favorite despite Nadal’s magnificent 2019 season and the signs from Abu Dhabi that he would continue that momentum into the new year.
But as well as leading their overall head-to-head 29-26, the Serbian has his rival’s number on hard courts.
In an astonishing sequence, Djokovic has now beaten Nadal in nine straight matches on hard courts, with every one of those wins coming in straight sets.
That run includes his convincing victory in last year’s Australian Open final, as well as an ATP Finals triumph.
The last success for Nadal over Djokovic on the surface came in the 2013 US Open final.
Perfect ATP Cup for Djokovic, mixed for Nadal
Djokovic ends the ATP Cup with a perfect record, six singles wins and two victories in doubles. The singles triumphs came against Kevin Anderson, Gael Monfils, Cristian Garin, Denis Shapovalov, Daniil Medvedev and Nadal. An impressive list.
The Serbian was tested most by Shapovalov and Medvedev, who both took sets off him.
Nadal started with three group victories, although two of them were scrappy as he struggled with the humidity and some rusty form.
A shock loss to David Goffin was followed up by a final-set win over Alex de Minaur and the Djokovic defeat, so he ended 4-2 in singles play, while he also won on his two doubles appearances at the event.
Organisers will have been delighted to have Nadal and Djokovic do battle in the final of an event that has produced some exciting moments.
But Nadal, while praising the ATP Cup, reiterated calls from Djokovic earlier in the tournament for one combined World Cup tennis competition. That would require a deal between the ATP and the ITF, who run the Davis Cup.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal now have a week to prepare for the Australian Open, where they will be the top two seeds.