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Novak Djokovic form ‘as good as it gets’ in United Cup debut | Tennis

Novak Djokovic form ‘as good as it gets’ in United Cup debut | Tennis


A “rusty” Novak Djokovic says his straight-sets thumping of China’s Zhang Zhizhen was as good as it gets for an opening match of the summer, and he expects to be even better by the time the Australian Open rolls around.

Djokovic crushed Zhang 6-3, 6-2 in 72 minutes on Sunday night to give Serbia a 1-0 lead in their United Cup tie against China in Perth. World No 15 Qinwen Zheng levelled the tie at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over world No 119 Olga Danilović in the women’s singles. Djokovic teamed with Danilović in the deciding mixed doubles, and they triumphed 6-4, 1-6, 10-6 (match tiebreak) to seal a 2-1 win just minutes before midnight.

The result means if Serbia defeat the Czech Republic on Tuesday, they will secure a quarter-final berth.

Zhang put up a fight early in Sunday night’s singles match at RAC Arena, with his strong serving keeping Djokovic at bay for a while. But the wheels fell off in the second set for the world No 58 as Djokovic unleashed his full force. Djokovic’s swift movement around the court and powerful groundstrokes wore Zhang down, with the 24-time grand slam winner racing to a 4-0 lead in the second set on the way to victory.

“I was a little bit rusty at the beginning. I was out of the tempo, rhythm for maybe the first five, six games,” Djokovic said. “But that’s normal when you don’t play an official match for over a month. It takes a little bit of time to get the engines going. He was serving well, he had nothing much to lose. When I broke his serve at 3-2 in the first set, I felt the momentum shift to my side.”

Djokovic, who is aiming to win his 11th Australian Open this summer, is satisfied with how his fitness is tracking. “I’m still in the process of building the body and the form for Melbourne,” Djokovic said. “The Australian Open is where I want to be at my 100 per cent. But this is as good as it gets for the opening week, and hopefully I can build from here and go in the right direction.”

USA’s Jessica Pegula and Taylor Fritz talk tactics during their mixed doubles match win over GB’s Katie Boulter and Neal Skupski at the United Cup
USA’s Jessica Pegula and Taylor Fritz talk tactics during their mixed doubles match win over GB’s Katie Boulter and Neal Skupski at the United Cup. Photograph: Will Russell/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Australia’s quarter-finals hopes hinge on a must-win meeting with reigning champions the USA after the Americans’ 2-1 victory over Great Britain. The British took an early lead in Sunday’s tie against the US when Katie Boulter upset world No 5 Jessica Pegula 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

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World No 10 Taylor Fritz, who will face Alex de Minaur on Monday night, squared the ledger for the Americans with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win over Cameron Norrie. Fritz and Pegula claimed the mixed doubles with a 1-6, 7-6, 10-7 (match tiebreak) victory over Boulter and Neal Skupski.

Australia, beaten 2-1 by Britain on the tournament’s opening night, must defeat the US 3-0 on Monday night to be guaranteed a quarter-final berth. A 2-1 win would mean the qualifiers are decided by sets won in matches between the three teams. A loss and Australia will be out.



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