Updated1/6/2022 12:55:00 AM
With a place in the semi-finals on the line Thursday at ATP Cup, Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin stepped up, overcoming Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner 7-5, 4-6, 10-5 to fire Russia to a 2-1 victory over Italy in Group B in Sydney.
The reigning champion will play the winner of Group C in the semi-finals on Saturday.
After the singles rubbers were split, all four players who competed in the first two matches of the tie returned to the doubles court for the decider on Ken Rosewall Arena.
In a tight match between last year’s finalists, Medvedev and Safiullin broke twice and won 89 per cent (33/37) of their first-serve points to triumph after one hour and 45 minutes.
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Earlier, Sinner survived a feisty challenge from Russia’s new ‘secret weapon’ Safiullin in the No. 2 singles to give Italy an early lead with a 7-6(6) 6-3 victory. But Medvedev then repelled a spirited comeback from Berrettini 6-2 6-7(5) 6-4 in the No. 1 singles to level the tie at 1-1.
"The first set I was in control and it's tricky because you think that things will continue to go your way but that's not the case when you're up against a Top 10 player," Medvedev said. "I made some bad decisions in the second set so I tried to learn from that in the third. I served well throughout the match and that helped me."
Taking up his customary position near the back wall to return serve, Medvedev negated Berrettini’s biggest weapon, breaking twice in the first set and limiting the Italian to winning just 59 per cent of first-serve points. It was a very different look on serve for Berrettini, who against Alex de Minaur was serving with the Australian standing with his toes on the baseline.
Medvedev, who led the Tour with 63 match wins last year, dropped just six games when he beat Berrettini in last year’s ATP Cup final in Melbourne. But Berrettini would not go away easily today, flipping the script in the second set when he put 80 per cent of first serves into play (including 13 in a row).
The World No. 7 won 27 of 28 first-serve points in the second set to deny Medvedev a chance to work his way into service games. The decisive moment in the tie-break came on Medvedev’s serve at 5/6, when the Russian chose to follow a neutral ball into the net behind a backhand slice. He popped up a backhand volley, which Berrettini stepped inside to deliver a clean winner to the backhand court.
Would Medvedev change up his return position in the third set to give Berrettini a different look on serve? No sir! The man dubbed ‘Deep Court Daniil’ stuck to his plan on return and broke in the third game. He then went into lockdown mode off the ground, making few unforced errors as he carved out an entertaining victory to take his ATP Cup singles record to 10-2 during the three years of the event.
Earlier in the No. 2 singles, Sinner fought off three set points in the first set and five break points against the World No. 167 in his first three service games of the second set before the World No. 10’s edge in big-match experience – and ability to save 10 of the 11 break points he faced in the match – carried him to a victory.
“I love to play for Italy and am very early happy to be up 1-0 and now we’ll see how Matteo can do against the No. 2 player in the world,” Sinner said. “It will be a tough challenge for him.
“Every match is tough to win at this level. [Roman] played incredible. I had to play my best tennis in the important moments. I got a little lucky in the first set but that is part of the game.”
Safiullin showed remarkable composure playing in the biggest match of his life. He rallied from being broken in the first game of the match to quickly draw back level at 2-all. Matching Sinner blow for blow in searching baseline exchanges, the 24-year-old earned a set point on Sinner’s serve at 6-5 and two more in the tie-break.
But perhaps the moment did catch up with him when he double faulted on 6/5 in the tie-break and then netted a routine high forehand volley on the next point before Sinner closed out the set with an ace.
In addition to fighting off five break points in his first three services games of the second set, Sinner again turned back a break chance in the final game of the match.