By Jonathan Barrett
SYDNEY (Reuters) – World number two Novak Djokovic played tactical tennis on Saturday to pick apart the enigmatic Daniil Medvedev at the inaugural ATP Cup in Sydney and earn a place for Serbia in the tournament’s final.
The Serbian won the match 6-1 5-7 6-4 after he relentlessly pushed the 198cm (6.5 ft) tall Russian around the court, forcing Medvedev to constantly scrape shots off his shoe laces.
Serbia now faces the winner of host nation Australia, led by Alex De Minaur, and Rafael Nadal’s Spain in Sunday’s final.
Earlier, Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic beat his more highly ranked opponent, Russia’s Karen Khachanov, giving Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead going into the doubles match.
Less than two weeks out from the Australian Open, Djokovic gave the world’s top players a possible blueprint on how to beat the 23-year-old Russian who has been regularly toppling the game’s elite.
While Medvedev’s slapping forehand, flat backhand and big serve have proven hard to counter, Djokovic used dropshots and low slicing backhands to pull the world number five into awkward places.
Medvedev’s long reach was nullified at the net with the Serbian regularly choosing to land shots at the Russian’s shoes rather than aim for a clean pass.
The tactical play, however, is easier said than done against the powerful Russian who was undefeated at the ATP Cup going into the match.
Djokovic said his tactics worked for a set before his opponent responded.
“He started figuring out the strategy and I had to adjust and I had to change,” Djokovic said after the match.
After the early success, the Serbian conceded four straight games in the second set, which he went on to lose.
Djokovic destroyed a racquet as his form drifted off and his energy stores appeared depleted even though the players were enjoying a respite from the intense heat that has been fuelling bushfires across Australia.
The introduction of the ATP Cup to the southern hemisphere calendar has created the most grueling and entertaining start to the Australian tennis season in memory, as top players chase prize money, ranking points and a team trophy rather than play in grand slam warm-up events.
Not for the first time this tournament, a vocal pro-Serbian crowd lifted their hero in the decider.
Djokovic secured a break of serve in the fifth game when Medvedev chose to try and wrong-foot the fatigued Serbian, rather than playing into the open court.
The decision proved costly. Djokovic’s serve held firm for the remainder, which ended when the Russian netted a groundstroke.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)