SYDNEY — Novak Djokovic has beaten Daniil Medvedev 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 to secure Serbia’s win over Russia and a spot in the final of the new ATP Cup.
The second-ranked Djokovic had to fend off three break points as he served for the match before clinching it in 2 hours, 47 minutes at a rowdy Ken Rosewall Arena.
He dropped to his back, arms and legs spread, before getting up to embrance Medvedev at the net and get into a huddle with his teammates to celebrate.
It was the first match between two top 5 players at the tournament and Djokovic raised his game for it in the first set, which he wrapped up in a half-hour and committed just four unforced errors.
After missing a breakpoint chance in Medvedev’s opening service game, Djokovic went on a six-game roll to clinch the first set and go up a break in the second. The vocal, pro-Serbia crowd sang and chanted “Nole, Nole, Nole” and hooted, hollered and whistled even when Medvedev lost points on errors.
Djokovic tried to keep the tall Russian moving, drawing him to the net with drop shots and slice and passing him with winners.
Medvedev rallied, though, to win four straight games, starting by breaking Djokovic in an extended second game that lasted more than 10 minutes and which he finally converted on his fourth break-point chance. Now he was making Djokovic rally, and getting points on most of the longer ones.
Medvedev had won their previous two matches at ATP Masters events in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati last year and was 2-3 in career head-to-heads, each time in three sets, and wasn’t about to give up a spot in the final without a fight.
Djokovic was showing signs of fatigue, hunching over and burying his face in a towel to get his breath back after netting to end a 31-shot rally in the fifth game of the second set. Djokovic got back on level terms but, serving to stay in the set in the 12th game, he netted a tired looking forehand, served a double-fault to give Medvedev a set point and the Russian converted it when he tracked down a volley and hit a forehand winner.
Medvedev, who led the tour with 59 overall wins last season, went 3-0 in the group stage in Perth and then fended off Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in a tempestuous quarterfinal win, when he twice hit the umpire’s chair with his racket during a verbal exchange.
He got the day off Friday, when Djokovic had to work hard for a comeback win over Denis Shapovalov that clinched Serbia’s quarterfinal win over Davis Cup runner-up Canada.
So the third set was always going to contain some drama. Djokovic got the pivotal break in a long fifth game after a protracted rally ended in an exchange of volleys and drop shots, for a 3-2 lead. He raised both arms to celebrate, almost an early victory.
Medvedev pushed him right to the end, though, forcing Djokovic to produce some of his best tennis. He saved a breakpoint with a makeshift forehand as he stretched back to get to deuce again, a point that usually would have clinched a break.
Dusan Lajovic gave Serbia the lead when he beat Karen Khachanov 7-5, 7-6 (1), clinching the first set with the only breakpoint chance of the match when he whipped a single-handed backhand winner down the line.
He clinched it an hour later after racing to a 6-0 lead in the tiebreaker and then converting his second match point.
Rafael Nadal was returning later Saturday to lead Spain against Australia, less than 18 hours after clinching a spot in the last four with a dramatic match tiebreaker win over Belgium in the doubles.