Nadal sidelined; team Djokovic wins to open ATP Cup defense

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Canada's Denis Shapovalov in their ATP Cup match in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal didn't make it for Spain's ATP Cup opener because of a sore back, deciding it wasn't worth the risk a week ahead of the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic did double-time for defending champion Serbia, meanwhile, winning singles and doubles matches Tuesday to ensure a 2-1 comeback win over Canada.

The top two players in men's tennis took different approaches to their fine-tuning at the start of a hectic week of preparation for the season's first major.

Both spent 14 days in hotel quarantine — as did all incoming players — because of Australia's strict border regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and both played in an exhibition event last Friday. Nadal played more of a hand in that, with Djokovic limiting his time on court because of a blister.

Djokovic was in his element on Rod Laver Arena while Serbia fans chanted and waved their national flag as he beat Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-5 to force a deciding doubles match, then combined with Filip Krajinovic for a 7-5, 7-6 (4) win over the Canadian pair.

Last week in Adelaide, Djokovic spoke about feeding off the energy of the crowds.

Back at Melbourne Park, where he has won a record eight Australian Open titles, he had plenty of energy to consume.

The large and loud band of Serbia supporters was a feature of Djokovic and his team’s win in the inaugural ATP Cup last year, which culminated with a victory over Nadal and Spain.