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Novak Djokovic beats Rafa Nadal ahead of Australian Open as Serbia eclipse Spain in ATP Cup final

The season’s first Grand Slam has yet to begin and already Novak Djokovic has turned Australia into a house of pain for Rafael Nadal.

The Spaniard was left counting the cost yesterday, as the Serb not only beat him personally but also led his country to victory in the inaugural final of the ATP Cup.

It was gone 1am when Djokovic fell into his team-mates’ arms after starring in both the singles and doubles as Serbia came back an early defeat to beat Spain 2-1.

Novak Djokovic faced the only man above him in the rankings when he played rival Rafa Nadal

Familiar foes Nadal and Djokovic met in the singles final at the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia

Familiar foes Nadal and Djokovic met in the singles final at the inaugural ATP Cup in Australia

Djokovic was left celebrating after seeing off Nadal and then helping Serbia win in the doubles

Djokovic was left celebrating after seeing off Nadal and then helping Serbia win in the doubles

By then Nadal was reduced to the role of spectator, having opted not to play in the deciding doubles after going down to a 6-2 7-6 defeat against his rival in their 55th meeting.

The world number one admitted he was overcooked after a frenetic few days, and told Spanish reporters that he was suffering some ‘discomfort’.

Leaving it to Feliciano Lopez and Pablo Carreno-Busta, they lost 6-3 6-4 to the highly-charged Serb combination of Djokovic and his friend Viktor Troicki.

It appears that, with the Open looming, Nadal was not prepared to take any chances. He had been underwhelmed by having to play the group stages in Perth before flying across three time zones here, where the quarter finals onwards were being staged.

Nadal endured a tricky evening and did not take part in the doubles following a busy schedule

Nadal endured a tricky evening and did not take part in the doubles following a busy schedule

Djokovic and partner Viktor Troicki defeated Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez

Djokovic and partner Viktor Troicki defeated Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez

Having helped his team get to the final, all he got was a reminder of how unplayable Djokovic tends to be in this country, let alone when he is wearing national colours and being roared on by a partisan crowd.

His match against Djokovic was played amid a feverish atmosphere due to the huge numbers of Serbian ex-patriates. It would traditionally be described as the sort of thing found in the Davis Cup, and it felt like this part of Sydney had transformed into downtown Belgrade.

“I’ve been blessed to have an amazing career the past 15 years but playing for my country with my best friends is too special,” said an ecstatic Djokovic.

Nadal had become especially aggravated in the second set as his every fault was applauded. After complaining to umpire Mohamed Lahyani he walked back to the baseline giving the crowd a prolonged thumbs up, a display of frustration more commonly associated with Djokovic.

Serbia celebrated lifting the trophy but Nadal was unimpressed by the behaviour of their fans

Serbia celebrated lifting the trophy but Nadal was unimpressed by the behaviour of their fans

The tournament was part of the players' preparations for the Australian Open on January 20

The tournament was part of the players’ preparations for the Australian Open on January 20

He pointedly referred to the Serbian support, saying: “Sometimes people from some countries, they probably don’t understand how the tennis goes. They think it’s about football or this stuff, and the atmosphere in tennis is different, no?

“The respect for the players should be there, and at some point I think the respect with a small part of the crowd has been not there.”

It should be said that he did not appear to mind too much in Madrid, at November’s Davis Cup finals, when the similarly fervent support was all in his favour.

While the first year of this new competition is perceived to have gone well, it will have disappointed organisers to have received his slightly less than enthusiastic endorsement, describing it as ‘a long competition’.

He repeated his call for it to be merged with the Davis Cup.

“Is a tough way to start the season,” he said. “I think is a great competition, but at the same time is I can’t change my mind that two World Cups in one month (it’s actually seven weeks) is not real. So is not possible.

“So we need to find a way to fix it and create a big World Team Cup competition, not two World Cups.”

You could only wonder whether, if it had been the end of the season and not just prior to a Grand Slam, he would have gone out for the deciding doubles, because he is outstanding in the two-man code of the game.

What was beyond dispute is that he and Djokovic had performed to a ridiculously high level for this stage of the season, with the Serb again showing that facing him on a hard court in Australia is about as difficult as facing Nadal on clay in Paris.

Their match in the final of the Australian Open last year saw Djokovic dish out an imperious straight sets thrashing, and it is a stark reality that he has now won nineteen consecutive sets against his rival on a hard court.

Nadal therefore did well to come back into it by gaining a break in the second, but he could not hold on.

If anything Djokovic looks stronger than ever on this evidence, and he will be clear favourite to win a seventh title at Melbourne Park when it starts on January 20.

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