SYDNEY (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic braved extreme humidity to beat tricky French opponent Gael Monfils 6-3 6-2 and later helped Serbia win the doubles as they progressed at the inaugural ATP Cup team event in Brisbane on Monday.
Spain’s world number one Rafa Nadal was also in punishing mood ahead of this month’s Australian Open as he dismantled Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 6-2 6-1 in Perth to seal their tie.
Roberto Bautista Agut had given the Spaniards the lead after an equally one-sided 6-1 6-2 win over Franco Roncadelli in the $15 million ATP Cup, which features 24 nations competing in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney over 10 days.
The world’s top players have assembled for the tournament and are using the event to prepare for the year’s first Grand Slam, which starts in Melbourne on Jan. 20.
Djokovic had a 15-0 head-to-head record against Monfils before Monday’s clash and, after surviving an initial onslaught from his opponent, made sure the record remained blemish free.
The Serb saved nine break points while converting the three he had against Monfils, who finished 2019 in the top 10, to square the tie after the temperamental Benoit Paire had given France the lead by overcoming Dusan Lajovic 6-2 6-7(6) 6-4.
“It was definitely one of the most humid conditions I have ever had in my career,” Djokovic said in a courtside interview. “I mean, tonight was brutal.
“Obviously playing Gael is never easy. You are coming into the court knowing that you are going to have a lot of exchanges, a lot of rallies. He is a great fighter and a great friend of mine, so I wish him all the best. Tough luck today.”
Djokovic returned to court with Viktor Troicki to clinch the deciding doubles match against Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3 6-7(5) 10-3.
The 2-1 result ensured Serbia will finish as Group A winners and become the second team to qualify for the quarter-finals after Australia booked their place as Group F winners on Sunday.
Fit-again South African Kevin Anderson earlier won his first match since returning to competitive tennis with a 6-0 6-3 success against Chile’s Cristian Garin.
Anderson, runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open and Wimbledon a year later, played only five tournaments last year due to injury before undergoing knee surgery in September.
The 33-year-old lost 7-6(5) 7-6(6) to Djokovic in his return to action on Saturday, his first match since the third round of Wimbledon in July, but proved too good for Garin.
The former world number five did not face a break point against Garin, sealing the tie for South Africa.
Austria’s world number four Dominic Thiem also bounced back from his season-opening loss against Croat Borna Coric by beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3 7-6(3) to help set up a 3-0 win over Argentina.
Croatia’s Marin Cilic, the U.S. Open champion in 2014, followed up Saturday’s win against Austrian Dennis Novak with a 7-6(8) 6-4 win over 20-year-old Kacper Zuk of Poland.
Cilic converted only one of his 13 break points but the win in Sydney was enough to set up Croatia’s second victory at the event after they defeated Austria 3-0.
Japan also completed their second win as Yoshihito Nishioka and Go Soeda emerged victorious in their singles matches to seal the tie against Georgia in Perth.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Additional reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; editing by Peter Rutherford/Christian Radnedge/Ken Ferris