Melbourne, Australia, Feb 2 (efe-epa).- Spain notched a surprisingly easy 3-0 win over Australia here Tuesday on Day One of the ATP Cup despite lacking the services of all-time great Rafael Nadal, while defending champion Serbia, talent-rich Russia and Italy started their campaigns with victories in the round-robin phase.
In Group B action at Melbourne Park, 16th-ranked Pablo Carreño Busta got Spain off to a strong start with a relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 win over Australia’s John Millman.
Thirteenth-ranked Roberto Bautista-Agut then rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win in the No. 1 singles spot over rising star Alex de Minaur to clinch the victory.
The 23rd-ranked De Minaur’s aggressiveness paid dividends in the early going, although the veteran Bautista-Agut used his superior consistency to force a decider and then won the third set on the strength of an early service break.
“It was a very tough match. I never beat Alex before today, and I knew it was going to be a difficult match. He’s a great player. He’s very solid. He runs well. He’s a great competitor, and well, it took me a while to get the rhythm of the match at the beginning of the first set,” Bautista Agut was quoted as saying on the ATP Cup’s website.
“But I was turning around the rhythm, playing more aggressive, playing harder, and well, I think the match changed, and finally I could close the match playing very good tennis.”
Spain then finished off their clean sweep when Carreño Busta and Marcel Granollers topped John Peers and Luke Saville 6-4, 7-5 in the doubles.
Despite Spain’s excellent start, Nadal’s health issues are a major concern for last year’s ATP Cup runner-up.
They also cast doubt on the world No. 2’s hopes for success at the first Grand Slam event of the new tennis season, the Australian Open, which will be played this year from Feb. 8 to Feb. 21, also at Melbourne Park.
In a Tuesday message on Twitter, Nadal confirmed he had a lower back issue but expressed hope he would be fit to play Spain’s second match at the ATP Cup against Greece on Thursday.
In other action Tuesday, defending champion Serbia rallied for a 2-1 victory over Canada in Group A.
Big-serving Milos Raonic, the world No. 15, got Canada off to a solid start with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Dusan Lajovic, but world No. 1 Novak Djokovic leveled the tie at 1-1 with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over 12th-ranked Denis Shapovalov and then teamed with Filip Krajinovic to edge Raonic and Shapovalov 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the deciding doubles.
Djokovic, who led Serbia to the title in the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup, now has a perfect 10-0 record at this international team competition.
In Group C, a contest between Italy and Austria began on a surprising note with a pair of upsets in singles. After 100th-ranked Dennis Novak surprised 17th-ranked Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-2 in No. 2 singles, 10th-ranked Matteo Berrettini kept the Italians alive in the tie with a commanding 6-2, 6-4 victory over world No. 3 and reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem.
Russia, the big favorite in Group D, got off to a good start with a 2-1 victory over Argentina. World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and eighth-ranked Andrey Rublev did not disappoint, winning their singles matches against ninth-ranked Diego Schwartzman and 44th-ranked Guido Pella by the scores of 7-5, 6-3 and 6-1, 6-2, respectively.
Argentina won the doubles point when Maximo Gonzalez and Horacio Zeballos defeated Rublev and Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
The winners of each of the four groups will qualify for the semifinals. EFE-EPA