Novak Djokovic was at his battling best to topple gutsy fifth-ranked Daniil
Medvedev on an epic Saturday and send Serbia into the inaugural ATP Cup final.
The world number two was given the ideal platform by a
composed Dusan Lajovic, who ground down Russia’s Karen Khachanov in the opening
singles 7-5, 7-6 (7/1) to hand his country a 1-0 advantage.
And the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who will be targeting
an eighth Australian Open title this month, came through a top-draw contest
6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
It gave Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead ahead of the doubles
to set up a meeting with either the Nick Kyrgios-led Australia or Rafael
Nadal’s Davis Cup champions Spain in the final on Sunday.
“It was an exceptional match. Lots of rallies and very
exhausting. Daniil Medvedev is one of the best players in the world and he
showed today why,” said Djokovic, who on Saturday pulled out of next
week’s Adelaide International after a tough ATP Cup.
“He’s difficult to break from the baseline, he’s tall
and has a good serve. This was the most difficult challenge I have had so far
Djokovic dropped a set for the first time in the tournament
during his quarter-final encounter with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, but quickly
assumed control against Medvedev.
Playing in much cooler conditions than the heat and humidity
that hit Nadal on Friday when he lost in the singles, Djokovic broke in the
first set to go 3-1 up and never looked troubled.
He broke again for 5-1 and served it out in just 31 minutes.
The Russian, who had won their last two encounters, appeared
in trouble when he was broken again in the opening game of the second set but
then astonishingly roared back.
He lifted his level to create four break points in the next,
converting when Djokovic misjudged a ball he thought was going out.
Another break put him 3-1 ahead and Djokovic smashed his
racquet in frustration as Medvedev took the set to level the match.
A third set of long, high-quality rallies went with serve
until Djokovic got the crucial edge in the fifth game, converting a volley to
go 3-2 in front and Medvedev had no answer.
Serena Williams delivered a masterclass in her semi-final at
the WTA Auckland Classic on Saturday, needing only 43 minutes to down rising
star Amanda Anisimova and set up a showdown against Jessica Pegula.
The unsung and unseeded Pegula stunned Caroline Wozniacki in
a three-set semi-final 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Top-seed Williams, at her imperious best, rapidly eliminated
third-seed Anisimova 6-1, 6-1.
It highlighted the gulf between the 38-year-old, the women’s
tennis figurehead for the past two decades, and the next generation of players
led by the 18-year-old Anisimova.
The mother of two-year-old Olympia said she had been working
hard to juggle tennis and motherhood as she targets a 24th Grand Slam at the
Australian Open later in the month.