Updated2/2/2021 2:42:00 AM
Djokovic won all eight matches he contested across singles and doubles in last year’s run to the title, and extended his streak to a ‘perfect 10’ as he paired up with Filip Krajinovic for his second match of the day. Both of Team Canada’s top singles players, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, were also back in action in the deciding rubber.
The Serbians found their rhythm after a sluggish start against Raonic and Shapovalov, who powered an early break opportunity in the first set. But Djokovic and Krajinovic stayed solid to save the only deciding point they faced in the match, keeping the pressure on the Canadians. They were rewarded with the first break of the match at 6-5 after a Shapovalov double fault to take the opening set, and edged through a second-set tie-break to claim the victory, 7-5, 7-6(4).
"Filip Krajinovic was the key," said Djokovic. "The way he played today is phenomenal. He came out [with] very solid returning. He found his serve, great rhythm. [He] just played some really key shots in the second set when we needed it the most."
The victory sends Serbia to the top of Group A, which includes Germany. Canada will be back in action on Wednesday against Germany, with Serbia hitting the court against the Alexander Zverev-led Germans on Thursday.
Djokovic’s undefeated streak continued at the ATP Cup as he started his campaign with a 7-5, 7-5 victory against Shapovalov earlier in the day to keep Serbia alive against Canada.
Serbia’s top player won eight matches en route to the trophy last year, including six singles matches. One of those was a highly-entertaining battle against 21-year-old Shapovalov, who pushed Djokovic to the limit in the quarter-finals before falling in a third set tie-break.
Djokovic was in for another stern test against Shapovalov inside Rod Laver Arena, taking the court after Milos Raonic put Canada ahead with a victory over Dusan Lajovic in the No. 2 singles players’ match.
He narrowly kept Shapovalov at bay in a blistering all-court battle, targeting the lines to force his opponent to go for bigger shots. The tactic paid off as Shapovalov’s unforced error count grew, racking up 21 in the first set alone. Djokovic’s serve was firing on all cylinders as he won 80% of points behind his first serve and didn’t face a break point against Shapovalov.
The Serbian needed one break of serve in each set to keep Shapovalov contained and seal his first match win of 2020 after an hour and 53 minutes. With his victory, Djokovic ensures that the tie will come down to a deciding doubles match as Canada and Serbia sit at one win apiece.
After the match, Djokovic thanked fans for the atmosphere they helped to create. "We don't get to see crowds in the tennis stadiums these days so much, so it's definitely a blessing. I'm really grateful to see you guys here in the stands," Djokovic said.
"It was a very close match. Playing Shapo is always a great challenge on hard courts. He's such a dynamic, explosive player; very talented. I thought we played on a very high level, so I'm really pleased with how I've started the season. This is the best way to kickstart the season, playing for your country.”
Earlier in the day, former World No. 3 Raonic served up a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Lajovic to earn Canada a crucial first point over defending champion Serbia at the ATP Cup.
Raonic, Canada’s No. 2 singles player, had to hit the ground running in his tournament debut as Canada was dealt a tough draw, landing in Group A with Serbia and Germany.
The 29-year-old was in command against Serbian No. 2 Lajovic, who won four of his six singles matches en route to the trophy last year. Raonic dropped only three points on serve in the first set and five in the second, keeping Lajovic in check as the Serbian tried to jam him with body serves of his own.
Raonic grew in confidence as the match unfolded, converting the lone break opportunity to finally pull away at 5-3 before sealing the set with an ace. He continued to apply the pressure against Lajovic in the second set, and claimed the victory after an hour and 20 minutes.
“I think I was sharp. I was there in a lot of return games. I kept putting pressure,” Raonic said. “I missed a few break point opportunities, but I kept sticking around and took care of my serve, which is always important.
“This is the first time playing in this event for Canada... It's a lot of fun to be here. It's a great honor as well to represent Canada.”