Doubles decider—Germany ousts Serbia, hand Djokovic first ATP Cup loss

Doubles decider—Germany ousts Serbia, hand Djokovic first ATP Cup loss

After losing to Novak Djokovic in three sets, Alexander Zverev regrouped with Jan-Lennard Struff to edge Djokovic and Nikola Cacic on Friday, clinching Germany's place in the semifinals.

There will be a new champion crowned at the ATP Cup after Germany defeated Serbia on Friday to grab the semifinal berth out of Group A.

Earlier, Novak Djokovic kept his country's hopes alive after rallying past seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-5, but Zverev would have the final word. Teaming up with Jan-Lennard Struff, who topped Dusan Lajovic at the start of the day, the two edged Djokovic and Nikola Cacic, 7-6 (4), 5-7 [10-7], to hand the world No. 1 his first loss of any kind at the men's team event (had been 11-0, with eight singles wins).

"I think we played maybe a little bit more aggressive. In the end we maybe took a few more shots, but it was so tight it could have gone both ways," Zverev assessed. "At the end of the day when you win the doubles decider 10-7 in the third set there's not much between the two. So, yeah, we're just super happy right now."

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In their singles match, Djokovic and Zverev brought the heat to start. Neither player was able to create a break point in the opening set, leading the pair to play out a tie-break. Djokovic held the first mini-break at 2-1, but Zverev reeled off five consecutive points by dictating rallies early and hitting his spots on serve. On his second set point, the German unleashed a second-serve ace out wide to the ad court and took a one-set lead.

Trouble crept in at 1-2 when Zverev double-faulted to offer Djokovic the first two break points of the contest. The 33-year-old capitalized by striking a forehand return that his opponent couldn’t absorb, and grew in confidence as the set carried on. He later converted a second break by ending a lengthy rally with a sublime backhand lob winner that landed squarely on the baseline.  

Zverev put the dip in form behind him by building early leads in his service games. Much like the first set, both held firmly in their trips to the line, until the ninth game. Serving at 4-4, 40-15, a dip in concentration cost Zverev. An unforced backhand error was followed by a double fault, and Djokovic seized the moment to put the match on his racquet.

Serving at 5-4, the Serb missed a match point at 40-30 and hit his fifth double fault to give Zverev his first look at a break point. Djokovic fired a strong first serve up the T, but his approach shot gave Zverev enough time to hit a forehand pass that resulted in a netted volley.

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Zverev’s new life in the match didn’t last long. A backhand unforced error, double fault and poor overhead that enabled Djokovic to rip a backhand pass saw him fall behind 15-40. Two points later, Zverev’s fifth double fault of the set handed the break back. From 15-30 down, Djokovic won the final three points to wrap up the tense affair.

"I thought it was a great match. We both played well," Djokovic told Sam Groth on court afterwards. "He definitely had a big-serving match. It was so difficult to play against him today. Missiles from the other side of the court, first and second serve.

"He was going for it, not too many double faults. You got to give him credit for being courageous and trying his best," Djokovic said of Zverev. "Obviously, the last couple of games, we were both quite tight. You could see that. Overall, it was a very enjoyable match."