Perth | USA edge past Great Britain and Serbia defeat China

Great Britain narrowly failed to pull off the upset of the United Cup in Perth when they were beaten in the deciding rubber by defending champions USA, 2-1, while Serbia came through against China 2-1, also in a decider.

I felt like I played some really good stuff. I get a lot of confidence from it; I've done the work during pre-season and I was very happy with it. I feel like a different player than I was a year ago. I wanted to get some wins by rankings. Katie Boulter

Mixed teams from 18 countries are playing in Perth and Sydney, a warm-up for the Australian Open, in a format involving a men’s and women’s singles plus a mixed doubles.

Team USA edged past Britain with a crucial win in a decisive mixed doubles after Jessica Pegula & Taylor Fritz defeated Katie Boulter & Neil Skupski, 1-6 7-6(4) [10-7].

Earlier on Day 3 of the mixed team competition, Boulter, the British No 1, scored the win of the United Cup so far with a 5-7 6-4 6-4 victory over Pegula in Group C action.

After leading the USA to the title 12 months ago in the competition’s first edition, Pegula looked on course for a fairly uncomplicated win to open the Americans’ title defence, turning a 4-2 first-set deficit to a 7-5, 3-0 lead and winning 6 straight games after saving 3 set points on serve at 4-5.

Boulter caught fire from a set and double-break down, and, after 2 hours and 44 minutes, scored her first-ever Top 5 victory at her 7th attempt.

After the first two hours of play and two split sets, Pegula broke serve to start the decider, but never again led as Boulter responded immediately, and neither could muster a break point until the Brit seized a 30-40 chance in the 8th game.

Although she failed to serve out victory, she was not to be denied, and broke for an 8th and final time to seal the upset, striking 20 forehand winners and winning 23 of 30 points at net helping Boulter’s cause.

“I felt like I played some really good stuff,” Boulter said later. “I get a lot of confidence from it; I’ve done the work during pre-season and I was very happy with it.

“I feel like a different player than I was a year ago. I wanted to get some wins by rankings.”


Taylor Fritz of USA levelled the tie with a tight straight sets win over Britain's Cameron Norrie

© Will Russell/Getty Images

With Britain having already beaten hosts Australia 2-1 in its first round-robin tie 2 days ago, the team looked set to reach the quarter-finals should Cameron Norrie win following men’s singles rubber, but Fritz kept the United States alive by taking out the Brit, 7-6(5) 6-4, gaining revenge for his defeat to the British lefty at the mixed-teams event last year.

Meeting for the 14th time in their careers, Fritz and Norrie exchanged heavy blows in the hot Perth conditions.

Fritz recovered from squandering a 4-1 lead in the first set, sealing the opener in the tiebreak, and then gained the decisive break of the second in the 9th game, advancing after an hour and 47 minutes.

The World No 10, who received medical treatment on his left thigh during the match, now leads Norrie 8-6 in their head-to-head record.

It all came down to the mixed doubles, which Britain dominated in the first set, but the USA regrouped to steady themselves and struck back in the second, Pegula & Fritz rallying from a break down to win the set in the breaker and then outplaying Boulter & Skupski in the match tiebreak.

It could well have gone differently had the Brits held their nerve in the crucial moments, but the Americans won the tie 2-1.

The United States can qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat Australia on Monday night, and the winners of Group C will advance to the quarter-finals in Perth.

Great Britain end Group play with a 1-1 record, having beaten Australia 2-1, who is led by Alex de Minaur and must overcome the USA to have a chance of progressing further.


Novak Djokovic & Olga Danilovic of Team Serbia pipped China's Zheng Qinwen & Zhang Zhizhen in the mixed doubles rubber on Sunday night in Perth

© Paul Kane/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic made his first appearance in the night session when Serbia met China in Group E.

The World No 1 eased past Zhang Zhizhen, 6-3 6-2, to give Serbia a 1-0 lead in the tie, putting in a rock-solid in all facets of his game as he notched up a 74-minute win in his first meeting with the Chinese.

“It’s great to be back in Perth,” said Djokovic, before addressing the crowd. “New Year’s is in a few hours so I really appreciate you coming to, hopefully, celebrate New Year’s eve with us here on the court.

“It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in Perth, and this arena is definitely one of the nicest, from inside and outside, that I’ve played in.

“Obviously Australia has been my happy place. The place where I made the most Slam wins in Melbourne, and I love coming back. I missed playing in Perth as well.”

Djokovic converted 3 of 7 break points he earned to the delight of the Serbian contingent in the stands at the RAC Arena, and is now 17-1 in season-opening matches since the start of 2007.

“I was a little bit rusty in the beginning, a little bit out of rhythm in the first five or six games, but it’s normal,” added Djokovic. “When you don’t play an official match for over a month, it obviously takes a little bit of time to get the engines going and he was serving well.

“I think the serve was great on my part, whenever I needed to get myself out of trouble, at 15-15 or 30-30 in my service games, I found a good serve.”


Zheng Qinwen beat Olga Danilovic to level tie after Novak Djokovic had beaten Zhang Zhizhen in the opening men's singles rubber between China and Serbia

© Paul Kane/Getty Images

The tables were turned when Zheng Qinwen drew China level when the World No15 improved to 2-0 on the new season after defeating Olga Danilovic, ranked 119, 6-4 6-2, to send tie into a deciding mixed doubles rubber.

It was a must-win for China to keep hopes alive of sending them through to the United Cup quarter-finals, having already secured a 3-0 sweep of the Czech Republic on Day 2.

Zheng came off a 3-set win over reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in her opener, and kept her cool to keep the feisty 22-year-old Serbian at bay.

Bidding to tally her 3rd career Top 20 win, Danilovic jumped out to a 2-0 lead and found herself a point away from going up 3-0 lead in the first set before Zheng stormed back to take the next 4 games with the aid of a flurry of forehand winners.

The Chinese appeared to have wrenched the momentum back, but Danilovic kept the pressure on, and with Zheng serving for the opening set at 5-4, the Serb earned herself two chances to level the set.

Zheng responded with steely resolve, wiping away Danilovic’s chances and coming through an 11-minute game to take the 61-minute set with a leaping backhand winner before riding out her momentum to a 4-0 lead in the second and closing out the win with her 8th ace of the match after an hour and 37 minutes.


Serbia's Olga Danilovic & Novak Djokovic (R) edged past China's Zheng Qinwen & Zhang Zhizhen in the mixed double match breaker minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve in Perth

© Colin Murty/AFP via Getty Images

With the tie poised at 1-1, Zheng & Zhang took on Danilovic & Djokovic in the decider as the clock ticked towards the New Year.

Just in the nick of time, though, Danilovic & Djokovic ensured that Team Serbia could celebrate the arrival of 2024 with a winning feeling as they teamed for a 6-4 1-6 [10-6] victory against Zhang & Zheng to ensure a triumphant United Cup debut for their country at RAC Arena.

Danilovic & Djokovic won 7 of the final 10 points to claim a 1-hour, 27-minute win and clinch a 2-1 victory for Serbia shortly before midnight in its opening Group E tie.

“This was on my No. 1 bucket list, to play with Novak and to win. I’m so happy,” said Danilovic in Serbia’s on-court interview. “Thanks to everyone for staying and being with us here on New Year’s Eve. This was an incredible match, I know I gave my all and I’m so happy to finish 2023 like this.”

Djokovic added: “It was a very tough match against a team, China, that is in form. They won their first tie 3-0 and they are both brilliant players in singles and doubles. We managed to turn it around. Olga hung in there, she lifted her spirits and she was really good in the tiebreak.

“Since it is only three or four minutes [until midnight], how about we celebrate the new year together?” Djokovic asked. “Stay a few minutes, we have a DJ who is going to play some music and we can do a countdown in a few minutes and celebrate together…”


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