Group B in Perth saw Spain and Japan, the two undefeated teams who in the group, meet in the last of their round robin matches to decide which of them would progress to the ATP Cup quarter-finals.
Now we (team Spain) go to Sydney, it’s the quarter-finals, it’s going to be another tough opponent for all of us there. And I really believe that we need to keep working well, but I really hope to be ready to increase the level Rafa Nadal
Not surprisingly perhaps, Rafa Nadal ensured it was the Iberians who progressed but not before fellow left-hander Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan gave him a tough test in the opening set which the world number one eventually won 7-6(4) 6-4 after nearly two hours to seal Spain’s expected spot in the final eight of the inaugural event.
Earlier in the opening rubber, Roberto Bautista Agut had set the ball rolling with a quick 6-2 6-4 defeat of Go Soeda.
Nadal had to twice fight back from a break down against the Japanese world number 72 in the opening set before winning the tiebreaker while the Spaniard broke his opponent’s serve in the ninth game of the second before holding serve for victory.
“It’s the first day I was playing under such heavy conditions, two previous days I had played in the night. The feeling on court was completely different,” Nadal said in an on-court interview.
“I played against an opponent who started the season on fire, winning two matches against two great players with very comfortable results. Today was a very, very tough one.”
He added: “He’s a great player with a lot of talent. He really does a lot of very difficult things very easy. So he’s able to manage very well the timing of the point. And his movements are one of the best on tour. He has started the season very well,
I’m happy to see him back at this very, very high level after tough injuries.”
Nadal has won all three of his singles matches in straight sets at the ATP Cup and on this occasion also teamed up with up with Pablo Carreno Busta to defeat Japan’s Ben McLachlan and Soeda 7-6(5) 4-6 10-6.
“I think it’s been a positive week for me personally.” Nadal continued. “Winning three matches against three tough opponents. That’s a good way to start the season.
“Now we (team Spain) go to Sydney, it’s the quarter-finals, it’s going to be another tough opponent for all of us there. And I really believe that we need to keep working well, but I really hope to be ready to increase the level.”
Spain’s great rivals are Serbia led by Novak Djokovic who sealed their place in the last eight in Brisbane defeating Chile 2-1.
Like Nadal, Djokovic cleared the round robin stage with no losses with a 6-3 6-3 win over Cristian Garin, the world number 33, to win the tie for Serbia after Dusan Lajovic earlier beat Nicolas Jarry 6-2 7-6(2).
Jarry and Alejandro Tabilo provided some consolation for the South Americans when they beat Viktor Troicki and Nikola Cacic in the doubles 6-3 7-6(2).
“I’ve never minded, to be honest, to face tough adversity from the blocks and have high-intensity matches from day one of the season,” Djokovic commented later.
“I had Kevin Anderson who was playing some extraordinary tennis. I thought it was the toughest match I’ve played here in Brisbane.
“And again against (Gael) Monfils, even though it was straight sets, it was still a lot of rallies and it was quite long and exhausting.
“I really am really happy with the challenges that I’ve had in the last six, seven days here, and hopefully that can allow me to build my form for Sydney and Melbourne later.”
Serbia now travel to Sydney, where they will take on the eighth-ranked team in the quarter-finals and Djokovic said he expected to have even more support from Serbian fans there than in Brisbane.
“I’m enjoying it — I enjoy the fact that we will actually go to a different city together, travel today, practice there tomorrow, play in a different environment,” he said.
“Sydney’s got a big Serbian community, hopefully the support can be as good as it was here, even better.
“It’s a team competition, it’s how I personally treat it, and that’s how it feels for all of us, so having that journey through various places in Australia together feels like a World Cup to us a little bit.”