Novak Djokovic has extended his supremacy on hardcourts against Rafael Nadal to force a deciding doubles encounter for the inaugural ATP Cup.
Second-ranked Djokovic leveled the final for Serbia with a 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over top-ranked Nadal on Sunday night, increasing his lead to 29-26 in their career head-to-heads. Nadal hasn't beaten Djokovic on a hard surface since the 2013 U.S. Open final.
The plan was for the world's two top-ranked players to go at it again in the doubles, but Nadal withdrew from Spain's combination and was replaced by Feliciano Lopez.
Roberto Bautista Agut had given Spain a 1-0 lead, and maintained his unbeaten streak at the ATP Cup, with a 7-5, 6-1 win in over Dusan Lajovic in the first singles match. The No. 10-ranked Bautista Agut didn't drop a set in six singles wins, including three in the group stage in Perth, at the tournament.
Nadal was listed to partner Pablo Carreno Busta in the doubles, but tournament rules allowed team captains to change their combinations between matches.
Spain's early lead put extra pressure on Djokovic, a seven-time Australian Open champion, to keep Serbia in contention. He hadn't lost a singles match at the new 24-team tournament, and started like losing wasn't a consideration
He broke Nadal's serve in the opening game, which lasted eight minutes and included two requests from the umpire to the crowd to keep quiet during the service motion.
Djokovic held for a 2-0 lead, the game going to deuce, and then didn't concede a point on serve for his next three games, closing the set in 39 minutes with three straight aces.
Nadal, meanwhile, was struggling to hold, with Djokovic typically relentless with his returns. After Nadal was broken for the second time, in the seventh game, he went to the chair umpire in the changeover, likely about the noise during his service swing, and held his thumb up to the crowd as he walked back to his team zone.
The Spaniard found his range on serve in the second set, though, conceding just a point in each of his first three service games. He had also had a huge opportunity to go up a break in the sixth game, but was unable to convert five chances as Djokovic rallied from 0-40 to hold.
Djokovic then had two breakpoints in the 11th game, which would have given him the chance to serve for the match, but Nadal rallied from 15-40 to hold and it was almost inevitable that the set finish in a tiebreaker.
Djokovic had a nervy start, serving a double-fault to fall behind 2-1, but after his forehand clipped the net and landed in to level the tiebreaker, he started to gain control. From 4-4, he won every point, starting the roll with a backhand winner down the line and finishing off when Nadal netted on match point.