Spain, Germany book last 2 ATP Cup semifinal berths

Melbourne, Australia, Feb 5 (efe-epa).- Spain lost 2-1 to Greece in their final round-robin match here Friday at the 2021 ATP Cup yet still advanced to the semifinals, while Germany beat out defending champion Serbia to book their place in the tournament’s final four.

Those nations have joined Italy and Russia, who had secured their semifinal places on Wednesday out of Group C and Group D, respectively.

Pablo Carreño Busta, the world No. 16, secured Spain’s passage to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-4 victory Friday over Greek world No. 462 Michail Pervolarakis in No. 2 singles at Melbourne Park.

The match appeared to be a complete mismatch when Carreño Busta raced out to a 5-0 lead, but Pervolarakis stepped up his aggressiveness and played more evenly with his more accomplished opponent the rest of the way.

“I knew that we needed this point. With this victory, we are into the semifinals, so it was very important to us,” Carreno Busta said in an on-court interview. “I tried to be focused on myself, to try to play my game.”

That match win was Spain’s fourth straight at this international team competition even without the services of world No. 2 and 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, who was been struggling with a stiff lower back.

The Spain-Greece tie then continued with the semifinal berth no longer at stake, with Greek world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas topping 13th-ranked Roberto Bautista-Agut 7-5, 7-5 and Tsitsipas and Markos Kalovelonis winning the deciding doubles match when Carreño Busta retired with an abdominal injury while he and partner Marcel Granollers were trailing 1-0 in the first set.

Tsitsipas, who will be one of the favorites at this month’s Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the new tennis season, said he was pleased with his performance in the singles.

“It was a good match. I think I played very solid throughout the whole match and showed aggression. My forehand was on fire, my serve was working really well for me,” Tsitsipas said afterward.

In other ATP Cup action on Friday, Germany edged defending champion Serbia 2-1 thanks to a victory in the deciding doubles.

Jan-Lennard Struff notched his second straight win over a higher-ranked opponent when he rallied to defeat Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in No. 2 singles.

The 26th-ranked Lajovic got the better of the baseline rallies in the opener, but the 37th-ranked Struff forced a decider after earning a crucial service break in the eighth game of the second set.

The German, who had defeated 15th-ranked Milos Raonic to help deliver a victory against Canada, then leveraged his strong serving to win a tightly contested third set.

In No. 1 singles, the top-ranked Djokovic withstood some big serving by seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev before coming out on top 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 7-5.

Djokovic earned a crucial service break in the decider before slipping up when trying to serve out the match at 5-4. But a pair of double faults by Zverev when serving at 5-5 caused him to drop serve once again and ultimately succumb to the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

“Staying on the line with 220, 217 (kph) second serves, it’s a huge risk,” Djokovic said of his opponent’s aggressive strategy. “I tried to read his serve. (In the) second set I started to read his patterns a little bit better.”

But Djokovic finally suffered his first loss in the ATP Cup across two competitions (12 matches) when he and Nikola Cacic fell to Zverev and Struff 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, (10-7).

“I think we played maybe a little bit more aggressive. In the end, we maybe took a few more shots, but it was so tight it could have gone both ways,” Zverev said afterward.

In one other tie on Friday in Group C. France topped Austria 2-1 in a match that served only to provide match practice for players competing in the Australian Open. Third-ranked Dominic Thiem, who was upset by 10th-ranked Matteo Berrettini in Austria’s opening tie against Italy on Tuesday, bounced back well to defeat France’s Benoit Paire 6-1, ret.

Play in the ATP Cup and five other Australian Open tune-up events being played at Melbourne Park – also the venue for the Grand Slam tournament – resumed on Friday after a positive Covid-19 case at a quarantine hotel caused a one-day interruption to competition.

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