Novak Djokovic got the party started for 2024 as he sealed a 2-1 win for Serbia over China near the stroke of midnight on Sunday at the United Cup in Perth. The world number one kicked off the new season by teaming up in mixed doubles with compatriot and longtime friend Olga Danilovic to hold off Zheng Qinwen and ATP number 58 Zhang Zhizhen for a 6-4, 1-6, 10-6 victory. Glancing at his watch after his on-court interview, Djokovic then implored the house DJ to fill in for five minutes before leading the RAC stadium crowd in a rousing countdown to the midnight hour.
“Thanks to the fans for staying this late,” the winner of 24 Grand Slams said.
“We’re glad you decided to spend this special night with us.”
The Serbs were playing their first match at the competition while China now stand 1-1.
Djokovic won his earlier singles over Zhang 6-3, 6-2 while Daniovic went down 6-4, 6-2 to her Chinese opponent Zheng, the WTA’s 2023 Most Improved Player who has risen to be world number 15.
The 22-year-old Danilovic could not praise her celebrated teammate enough.
“This was number one on my bucket list – to play with Novak and to win, I’m so happy.
“This was an incredible match, I gave my all and I’m glad to finish 2023 like this, it could not be better.
“I’ve looked up to Novak from the first moment I touched a racquet.”
Defending champions USA win
Jessica Pegula and Taylor Fritz had to fight through a deciding doubles match to conclude a 2-1 defeat of Britain on Sunday for the United States to stay in title contention at the United Cup.
The defending champions, who won the trophy last January over Italy, earned a 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), 10-7 mixed doubles win to claim victory in Perth after the sides split the singles.
“We have a team energy from last year here, we don’t want to take a loss and let it die,” said Fritz, who was broken twice in the opening set.
World number five Pegula added: “To get a win in this fashion after such a long day (on court) brings back a lot of memories.
“It was a big win today, especially after losing such a tough singles match.”
Britain, who beat Australia to open their tournament account, took a 1-0 lead when Pegula crashed 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to Katie Boulter in the singles.
It was Boulter’s first win over a top-five player on her seventh attempt after she bounced back from a set and double-break down.
Pegula’s 10th-ranked teammate Fritz kept the tie alive despite a thigh strain he blamed on over-training, defeating Cameron Norrie 7-6 (5), 6-4.
“I strained something but got through it,” said Fritz. “Cam and I have played so many times (14). It’s always a battle, always close.”
In Sydney, Leylah Fernandez led Canada to a fighting victory over Chile with the former US Open finalist winning her singles rubber and then backing up in a decisive mixed doubles.
The 35th-ranked Fernandez got Canada off to a perfect start, cruising past Chile’s Daniela Seguel 6-2, 6-3 in 73 minutes.
With Canadian number one Felix Auger-Aliassime sitting out the men’s singles, 314th-ranked Steven Diez stepped up but was toppled by world number 19 Nicolas Jarry 7-5, 6-4.
It set up a deciding mixed doubles, with Fernandez teaming with Diez to battle past Seguel and Tomas Barrios Vera 7-5, 4-6, 10-8.
“I’m extremely happy with the way I played,” said Fernandez, who was part of the Canadian team that won the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time this year.
The 21-year-old broke five times in her singles clash against a player in her first WTA Tour-level singles match in nearly two years, using the serve-and-volley tactic well.
“First match of the season so had some nerves, but happy with the way I was able to handle it,” she said.
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