SYDNEY • Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal and then went back on court within an hour and won the deciding doubles encounter to secure Serbia's 2-1 victory over Spain in the inaugural ATP Cup final yesterday.
The world No. 2 defeated his top-ranked rival 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) to level the scores after Roberto Bautista Agut had drawn first blood with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Dusan Lajovic.
After widening his lead to 29-26 in career head-to-head meetings with Nadal and extending his supremacy over the Spaniard on hardcourts, he combined with Victor Troicki to defeat Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal, who has not beaten Djokovic on a hard surface since the 2013 US Open final, withdrew from the doubles match, citing fatigue.
The 19-time Major winner dug deep in the quarter-finals on Friday, partnering Carreno Busta in the deciding doubles as Spain overcame Belgium 2-1. But this time, his tank was empty and Lopez got a late call-up.
Nadal said: "I have been playing a lot of tennis the last couple of days. My level of energy is a little bit lower than usual, because I played long yesterday, very long before yesterday, very long in (Perth).
"So is a team decision, and we believe in our team. That's why we had success in the past, because we were able to give the confidence to the rest of the players, and we give the confidence to Feliciano and Pablo."
After playing six singles matches and two doubles matches in 10 days - on both the west and east coasts of Australia - and coming off the back of guiding Spain to the Davis Cup title in Madrid in November, Nadal also called on the sport's authorities to merge the team events.
Urging the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the ATP to sit down and form one world team championship instead, he said: "I think (ATP Cup) is a great competition, but at the same time - I can't change my mind that two World Cups in one month is not real.
"So is not possible. We need to find a way to make a big deal with ITF and ATP to create a big World Team Cup competition, not two.
"That's a confusion for the spectators, and we need to be clear in our sport, and for the health of our sport, (it) is, in my opinion, mandatory that we fix it."
I'll remember this experience for the rest of my life... playing for a country with some of my best friends is just - you can't match that.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC, the 16-time Grand Slam winner, revealing that winning the ATP Cup is one of the best moments of his career.
His absence was telling as Djokovic carried over the momentum he had into the deciding doubles.
The 16-time Slam champion had not lost a singles match at the 24-team tournament, and the manner in which he took on Nadal was as if the thought of losing never crossed his mind.
"We get to play a lot of exciting points. There were some incredible exchanges today," Djokovic said.
"I started off the match, perfectly, really. Everything worked for me. Serve got me out of trouble in the second set."
The partisan crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena, chanted "Serbia, Serbia and Serbia, Nole, Nole, Nole" during the world No. 2's win and several hours later, they were cheering for their champions again.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS