Novak Djokovic has already shown fine form this year ahead of facing Jan-Lennard Struff at the Australian Open on Monday.

A record seven-time champion in Melbourne, the Serbian will take some stopping once again at the year's first grand slam.

Djokovic was strong during the back end of last year, aside from his ATP Finals failure, and has started 2020 impressively.

We take a closer look at where the 16-time major champion is at ahead of his opener.

 

Form and results

Djokovic led Serbia to ATP Cup success to begin the year, and he did so in style. The 32-year-old recorded singles wins over Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev during that run, while also beating Denis Shapovalov, Gael Monfils, Kevin Anderson and Christian Garin. If anyone was doubting he would be hard to beat in Australia, those questions were quickly answered.

Awaiting him in the first round is Struff, who would appear one of the trickier tasks given the German is ranked 37th in the world. Struff enjoyed a strong 2019 that included reaching semi-finals in Auckland and Stuttgart and the last eight in Barcelona and Basel, while he stunned Alexander Zverev at Indian Wells. However, Djokovic has enjoyed two straight-sets wins over Struff in their previous two meetings, including a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory at the French Open last year.

Draw

Djokovic should encounter few early problems. Wildcard Tatsuma Ito or lucky loser Prajnesh Gunneswaran await if he gets past Struff, while 30th seed Dan Evans could be his third-round opponent.

What he said

"Milestones are definitely a motivation, I think. At the same time they make me proud of what I have achieved in my career. They give even more significance to why I'm competing in professional tennis still. But at the same time, there's some other higher goals that I have kind of as a driving force I think more than any other milestone. But they all are important."

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic said a changing of the guard is "inevitable" as the next generation of tennis players close the gap on the "Big Three".

Djokovic (16), Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) have dominated the ATP Tour circuit, combining for 55 grand slam titles and numerous other trophies.

While Djokovic, Federer and Nadal continue to lead the way and set the standard despite their advancing years, the world number two knows the younger generation will soon have their day.

As seven-time Australian Open champion Djokovic prepares for Monday's opener against Jan-Lennard Struff in Melbourne, the Serb star told reporters: "They're coming closer and closer. It's obvious.

"[Daniil] Medvedev had a great fight with Rafa in the last Grand Slam in US Open of last season. [Stefanos] Tsitsipas played semis here last year. Dominic Thiem twice finals in French Open. They're very, very close. They're literally one set away. On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It's going to happen. It's inevitable.

"What they're missing? I don't think they are missing too much, to be honest. I think they possess very powerful games that require a lot of skills, and they have those skills. They have put in the hours and dedicated themselves on and off the court. I think a lot of those next generation players working very hard, being very professional. That's a good sign because that's one of the precursors.

"But at the same time to win a slam and also to kind of be consistently on the top level for many years, it takes I think a player to gain that mental and emotional maturity and experience to understand his own strengths, to kind of fight his own fears, to really be able to maintain that level for a long time. Rafa, Roger, and I, obviously because of the past 10,15 years, we know what we need to do mentally also in this particular situation. That gives us probably a little bit of an edge.

"Everything has to kind of intertwine and everything has to be, I guess, in balance. When I say 'everything' I mean mental, physical, emotional. Then of course you need to have luck on that day and for the stars to align to win a Grand Slam trophy. They're very close. I don't think that's miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago. I think they are definitely hungry. They are challenging. They're knocking on the door."

Djokovic heads into his title defence on the back of a memorable but gruelling ATP Cup campaign in Australia as Serbia triumphed.

On his preparations, the second seed added: "I did not have such an intensive couple of weeks the year before the Australian Open for many years. I did have participation in Doha tournament, Hopman Cup before, everything.

"It was a lot of physical and emotional energy being spent in the ATP Cup… We as a team won the title, which was definitely one of the highlights of my career. It was phenomenal couple of weeks and great lead up to Australian Open. But it did take a lot out of me. I did adjust my training sessions towards that, so I had a little bit more of recuperation rather than just stepping on accelerator a little bit more."

The 108th edition of the Australian Open begins on Monday as the world's best tennis players battle it out at the first grand slam of 2020.

Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka will return to defend the titles they won last year, adding to the event's storied history.

The pair will face stiff competition from stacked fields in the men's and women's draw as a host of players seek glory in Melbourne.

To whet your appetite for the forthcoming feast of tennis, here is a selection of the best Opta facts related to the Australian Open.

 

- The last three years have seen the 12 women's grand slam tournaments being won by 10 different players; only Simona Halep and Osaka have won twice in that span.

- Djokovic won his seventh Australian Open title in 2019, the most of any male player in the history of the tournament. He has won the event every time he has reached the semi-finals.

- Of the last 14 editions of the Australian Open, 12 have been won by either Djokovic (7) or Roger Federer (5) – Rafael Nadal (2009) and Stan Wawrinka (2014) are the only other winners in that period.

- Victoria Azarenka (2012, 2013), Serena Williams (2009, 2010) and Jennifer Capriati (2001, 2002) are the only women to have won successive titles at the Australian Open since 2000.

- Federer won his sixth Australian Open title in 2018, 14 years after his first win at the event; no player has won multiple Australian Open titles over a longer period in the Open Era. It is his last win in a grand slam tournament to date.

- Since 2005 only Williams (2010, 2015) and Azarenka (2013) have won the title at the Australian Open as the number one ranked player in the world.

- Williams has not won any of the last 11 grand slams, with her last victory coming at the Australian Open in 2017 when she was pregnant – this is the American's longest span without a major title.

- Petra Kvitova lost in the final of the Australian Open last year, the only time she went further than the quarter-finals in her last 19 grand slam appearances, since winning Wimbledon in 2014.

- Either Nadal or Andy Murray has been the runner-up in nine of the last 10 Australian Open men's finals, Murray losing five times and Nadal four. Marin Cilic in 2018 is the only other player to lose an Australian Open final in that span.

- The last time an Australian made it to the men's final at the Australian Open was Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 and the last Australian to win the title was Mark Edmondson in 1976 (against fellow Australian John Newcombe).

Daniil Medvedev accepts the 'Big Three' will be hard to stop at the Australian Open, but said he was gaining confidence from facing the all-time greats.

After a superb 2019 that included a run to the US Open final, Medvedev is considered one of the contenders in Melbourne, where the year's first grand slam starts on Monday.

But 14 of the past 16 Australian Opens have been won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and the trio are again the favourites.

Medvedev, the fourth seed who will face Frances Tiafoe in a tricky opener, said regularly facing the greats gave him confidence.

"I think playing against them from time to time, especially the further you go in the big tournaments, the more chances you have to play them," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"The more times you play them, the more you know where you are comparing to them. For example, match in ATP Cup, Novak was kind of all over me. I managed to get back, almost win the match. I mean, he still won it. They won the whole ATP Cup. But I felt I was really close.

"Matches like this give you confidence to see that you're able to do it, but it's really tough."

Medvedev's run to the final at Flushing Meadows was the first time he had been beyond the fourth round of a grand slam.

The Russian, 23, said he was eyeing at least the quarter-finals in Melbourne this year.

"It's always tough to answer. Good Australian Open is to win it, but if you ask me what I'm going to be happy about, it always depends of course who you play, who you lose to," Medvedev said.

"But I would say I will be happy with quarters. As I always say, for me the first goal is to win it step by step.

"If I'm in quarters, I'm not going to be there and say, 'Okay, I've done my goal, it's enough for this tournament.'

"Any tournament I play, I want to win it. But quarters will be satisfying, I would say."

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Omnisport. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform, of which Omnisport is a part of, harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

Defending champion Novak Djokovic could meet Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, while Venus Williams has again been pitted against Coco Gauff.

Gauff produced one of 2019's most remarkable results when she beat five-time Wimbledon champion Williams in the first round at the All England club, and the 15-year-old will again face her compatriot in the opening round of 2020's first major.

Serena Williams starts her latest quest for a 24th grand slam singles title against another teenager, Anastasia Potapova, and she could be on for a quarter-final against defending champion Naomi Osaka, who plays Marie Bouzkova in round one.

Ashleigh Barty, who heads into her home slam at the top of the WTA rankings, begins her campaign against Lesia Tsurenko and could meet last year's runner-up Petra Kvitova in the last eight.

Fourth seed Simona Halep takes on Jennifer Brady in round one, with Maria Sharapova facing a difficult opener against Donna Vekic and second seed Karolina Pliskova meeting Kristina Mladenovic.

World number two Djokovic faces a tough start to his title defence in Melbourne against Jan-Lennard Struff, who climbed 20 places in the ATP rankings between January 2019 and this year.

Federer, seeking his 21st grand slam title and seventh in Australia, begins against American Steve Johnson and could face a round-of-16 match with Grigor Dimitrov, who won their last meeting at the quarter-final stage of the US Open.

Djokovic is on course to meet Federer in the semis but Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has beaten the Serbian twice in four meetings, may lie in wait first at the quarter-final stage.

World number one Rafael Nadal meets Hugo Dellien in the first round and could face home favourite Nick Kyrgios in round four.

Dominic Thiem could await Nadal in the quarter-finals, the Austrian beginning his quest for a maiden grand slam triumph against Adrian Mannarino.

World number four Daniil Medvedev has a difficult opening match against Frances Tiafoe, with Alexander Zverev a possible last-eight opponent.

Craig O'Shannessy knows Novak Djokovic better than most. He was the brains behind the 16-time grand slam champion's revival.

When O'Shannessy teamed up with Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017, there were doubts over the Serbian star and whether he was a spent force on the ATP Tour due to injuries and form.

Djokovic drifted to 22nd in the world rankings during the 2018 season after ending the previous year without a slam crown – Australian Open (second round), French Open (quarter-finals), Wimbledon (quarter-finals) and US Open (absent due to injury).

However, highly regarded Australian strategy analyst and data pioneer O'Shannessy masterminded Djokovic's rise back to the top with three consecutive major championships thanks to a specific gameplan and emphasis on numbers and patterns.

Djokovic won four slams in total with O'Shannessy – the Australian Open (2019), Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and US Open (2018) – before the pair went their separate ways at the end of the 2019 season.

Providing an insight into Djokovic ahead of his quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown in Melbourne, O'Shannessy, who provides players with reports and videos focusing on serving patterns and rally lengths before every match, told Omnisport: "He was really fantastic.

"He was also really receptive, really inquisitive, he is a sponge. There were so many times that I'd give him data and he was locked on to it. He always looked at it as much as possible. He had a real thirst for all the analytics I'd provide him. My job was to make things simple. He is a very smart guy. I think the record and success he had, a big part of that was going onto the court and having the confidence in the gameplan."

O'Shannessy, who now works with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, said: "We met in 2016 and I just showed them the work I could do, which was a lot of video work, analysis of matches, reports that led to video and it was something they weren’t doing at all in their team. We started at the beginning of 2017 and did it for three years, which in tennis years is a substantial amount of time, and it was very successful.

"Early on, I asked him how I could best be an asset for him. I had showed him everything I could do and the big thing was he wanted to see video. He hadn't seen a lot of video from his matches and what he did well. The big thing early on was the confirmation that certain ways and patterns that he gravitates naturally to on the court and didn't know whether they were really the best options.

"A lot of it early on was to show video of his best patterns of play, what worked the most, why he was winning, provide gameplans for every single match over the three years for the opponent, so he never went in blind. We always had a gameplan and knew the tendencies of opponents. Really double down at the big events and against his big rivals, to ensure no stone was left unturned."

At the age of 32, Djokovic – regarded as one of the all-time greats – trails Roger Federer's slam record (20) but can specific training with the use of analytics help prolong his career in pursuit of history?

"Novak is the kind of player that when he's practising, likes to feel the ball, likes to have rhythm, likes to have a large volume of hitting," O'Shannessy added. "But at the same time, there's one element being 'I need to feel good about my game but I also need to spend time working on the patterns that I know will be the most conducive to me winning matches'.

"Being smarter, a lot of the data does direct itself to being smarter on the practice court and not just grinding away, but running patterns of play and serving to a location to receive a ball, then to go to another specific location. For sure that knowing while you win matches and knowing that it's much more in the shorter rallies than the longer rallies, then you go to the practice court and develop those patterns."

Novak Djokovic believes there is no clear favourite for the men's singles at the Australian Open and says the 'big three' will be challenged at the opening slam of the year.

The last 12 majors have been shared between Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, with Stan Wawrinka the last man other than the trio to win a slam at the 2016 US Open.

Djokovic impressed during the inaugural ATP Cup last week, scoring wins over Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Kevin Anderson en route to helping Serbia to glory.

The 16-time slam winner accepts the usual suspects will be considered favourites in Melbourne, but tipped the likes of Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem to challenge.

"I think it's really open, the Australian Open or any other slam," Djokovic told reporters.

"I don't think there are really clear favourites. You have obviously Federer, Nadal, myself because of the experience and everything and the rankings that we get to be probably named the top three favourites.

"But then you have Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem that are really showing some amazing tennis.

"They showed that they matured on the big stage, that they can challenge the best players in the world and win against them.

"So, everybody keeps on talking about a NextGen player winning a slam. It seems like it's getting closer. Hopefully not this year. We'll see."

While Djokovic and Nadal have geared up for the Australian Open by playing the ATP Cup, helping Serbia and Spain to the final respectively, Federer opted to stay home and train in his native Switzerland.

Federer insists he has no fitness concerns despite not playing a competitive match since November.

"I've trained long and hard in the off-season and I didn't have any setbacks, which is crucial," Federer said.

On the continued success he, Djokovic and Nadal have enjoyed, Federer added: "I'm aware that at 38 I shouldn't be the favourite, it should be someone probably in their 20s, but the three of us have been able to stay as the favourites, which is great for us.

"Both guys are already showing great signs. I was watching a little bit of their ATP Cup match and thought that was a great match.

"Both guys, injury free, are always tough to beat."

Novak Djokovic drove Serbia to glory in the ATP Cup final, sinking Spain with a sublime singles win over Rafael Nadal and a clinical doubles performance.

Tuning up for the defence of his Australian Open title, Djokovic helped Serbia recover from the loss of the first singles rubber, when Roberto Bautista Agut scored a 7-5 6-1 victory over Dusan Lajovic.

With the pressure growing late on Sunday evening in Sydney, Djokovic rose to the occasion against world number one Nadal and landed a 6-2 7-6 (7-4) success for a 29th win in the pair's 55-match career rivalry.

That meant the inaugural edition of this event would be decided on doubles, and while Djokovic returned after a brief break to partner Viktor Troicki for Serbia, Nadal was only a spectator.

Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez lined up for Spain, but they could not resist the Serbian pairing and fell 6-3 6-4, the match ending at 01:05 local time on Monday morning.

An emotional Djokovic said of Serbia's 2-1 triumph: "I'll remember this experience for the rest of my life as it is definitely one of the nicest moments in my career."

Nadal was as intense at courtside as he can be in match action, but he was also essentially powerless to influence the outcome as Davis Cup winners Spain fell short of what would have been a famous double.

Serbia, backed by a large contingent of their supporters roaring approval inside the Ken Rosewall Arena, moved one game away from the trophy after a strong service game from Troicki.

And while Lopez and Carreno Busta staved off the immediate threat, there was never any doubting Djokovic would complete the job once he got ball in hand.

He served out to love, sank to the court, then embraced Troicki before being mobbed by the rest of the Serbia squad.

Djokovic hurled a racket into the crowd, caught by a thrilled female fan, before he and Troicki wrapped themselves in a Serbia flag.

Djokovic said on Amazon Prime: "I've been very fortunate and blessed to have an amazing career in the last 15 years, but playing for the team and playing for the country with some of my best friends for a long, long time, you just can't match that, that's too special."

Troicki explained teaming up with Djokovic had been a treat, saying: "I remember playing with him since we were nine, 10, and to share such a moment with him... I'll remember it for the rest of my life. It's unreal."

Novak Djokovic extended his hard-court dominance against Rafael Nadal as he brought Serbia level with Spain in the ATP Cup final.

After Roberto Bautista Agut fended off Dusan Lajovic 7-5 6-1 in the opening rubber, the Sydney crowd saw the world's top two players lock horns in a critical showdown.

Djokovic took it 6-2 7-6 (7-4) for a 29th win in his 55-match rivalry with Nadal, who helped Spain win the Davis Cup last year.

And that meant the inaugural ATP Cup would be decided by a doubles showdown, which was set to get under way after 23:00 local time.

Djokovic and Nadal have played each other more times in singles than any men's tennis rival pairing in the Open era and this latest meeting went largely in keeping with recent trends.

Nadal had won three of their past five matches, but all those wins came on clay, his preferred surface, while Djokovic's successes in the mini sequence came on grass in the 2018 Wimbledon semi-finals and on hard court in last year's one-sided Australian Open final.

Djokovic was made to work harder than the scoreline suggested to take the opening set, and then the world number two withstood severe pressure on his serve in the sixth game of the second set, fending off five break points including three at love-40.

It was Nadal's turn to produce heroics in the 11th game, saving two break points - the first with a volley onto the baseline and the second when lashing a backhand clean winner down the line.

With a large Serbian contingent inside the Ken Rosewall Arena, the crowd favoured Djokovic, yet the match was still in the balance as it went to the second-set tie-break.

Djokovic gave himself a crucial mini break to lead 5-4 though, lancing a backhand out of Nadal's reach. Nadal sliced inches wide and then lashed a forehand into the net, and the rubber belonged to Serbia.

Djokovic said: "Every time I get to play Rafa, we get to play a lot of exciting points. There were some incredible exchanges today. I started off the match perfectly really, everything worked for me.

"I think my serve got me out of trouble in the second set when he was love-40. If he broke my serve at that moment, the match could have easily gone to a third set and it's anybody's game.

"I'm just really glad to hold my nerve in the end."

Serbia and Spain both prevailed in the ATP Cup to set up a dream final that could see Novak Djokovic face Rafael Nadal.

Having won all three matches of their quarter-final tie with Canada in the quarter-finals, Serbia again remained unbeaten versus Russia, while Spain dispatched hosts Australia with successive singles wins.

Reigning Australian Open champion Djokovic came through an engrossing three-setter with US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev.

Djokovic had lost his last two meetings with Medvedev, who threatened a comeback in Sydney after he recovered from a hugely disappointing first set to force a decider.

The world number two struck the ultimately decisive break in the fifth game of the third. However, typically obdurate to the end, Medvedev had three break-back points before Djokovic finally took his second match point.

It finished, fittingly, with the type of lengthy baseline rally that defined a captivating contest, Medvedev firing a cross-court forehand into the net to give Serbia an unassailable 2-0 lead with a 6-1 5-7 6-4 victory.

Earlier Dusan Lajovic beat Karen Khachanov 7-5 7-6 (7-1), and Serbia also came through in the dead rubber doubles clash as Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki defeated Teymuraz Gabashvili and Konstantin Kravchuk.

Paying tribute to Medvedev, Djokovic said of the match: "[It was] exciting, exhausting, joyful, dreadful all at once. At one point we both refused to miss from the baseline, so it was a lot of rallies and it was very exhausting. A very physical battle, but also a mental battle.

"He showed why he's one of the best players in the world, why he's top five. This kind of consistency and this kind of solid game from back of the court, big serves, got him to where he is. He deserves to be there.

"[It was] definitely one of the most exciting matches I have played against him or any other top player in the last few years."

World number one Nadal was similarly tested by Alex de Minaur, whose energy and intensity had the home crowd in Sydney on their feet as he took the first set in his quest to level the tie after Roberto Bautista Agut easily beat Nick Kyrgios 6-1 6-4.

US Open champion Nadal did not have a break point until the 12th game of the second, but he took it to force a decider and subsequently raced away to claim a 4-6 7-5 6-1 success.

Wary of the obvious threat posed by Djokovic and Serbia in the final, Nadal said on court: "It's going to be a super tough final against Serbia.

"Novak likes to play here and Serbia has a great team and is playing very well. But Roberto played an amazing match this afternoon and we have a good team, so we are ready for it."

World number two Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the Adelaide International.

The 16-time grand slam champion was scheduled to play at the inaugural edition of the event ahead of the Australian Open, but his withdrawal was announced on Saturday.

Djokovic, 32, has been in action for Serbia at the ATP Cup, winning all five of his singles matches to help his nation into the final.

Adelaide International tournament director Alistair MacDonald said: "We understand his decision and wish him the very best of luck for the remainder of the ATP Cup and the upcoming Australian Open."

A record seven-time Australian Open champion, Djokovic will again enter the tournament in Melbourne as one of the favourites.

The Australian Open begins on January 20.

Rafael Nadal made up for losing his singles rubber to David Goffin by helping Spain clinch a vital doubles victory over Belgium, ensuring they joined Novak Djokovic's Serbia in the ATP Cup semi-finals.

Spain took a 1-0 lead after Roberto Bautista Agut overcame Steve Darcis' replacement Kimmer Coppejans 6-1 6-4, but Nadal was unable to seal the deal against Goffin.

Goffin claimed just his second success over the 19-time major champion, producing an efficient attacking display to take a 6-4 7-6 (7-3) triumph.

Nadal returned to Ken Rosewall Arena for the decisive doubles match alongside Pablo Carreno Busta, but they failed to convert a set point before surrendering the opener to Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen.

Spain forced a match tie-break after a video review showed Vliegen struck the ball before it crossed the net and with momentum on their side, Nadal and Carreno Busta surged to victory.

Nadal found the corner with a tremendous forehand from the baseline for the first mini-break and a double fault from Gille gave them a second. A double fault from Vliegen sent Spain through to a showdown with Australia on Saturday.

"It was tough for us it was a big change from Perth to here with not much time to adapt and the conditions today were very heavy," said Nadal after the 6-7 (7-9) 7-5 10-7 success.

"They [Belgium] have been here for 10 days, for us it's the first day. Well done to them, a great level of tennis ... We are super happy to be in the semi-finals."

Dusan Lajovic got Serbia, who received raucous backing from the crowd in Sydney, off to a great start by claiming a 6-4 6-2 victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime in an hour and 39 minutes.

Canada were consequently relying on Denis Shapovalov beating Djokovic in the second singles rubber to remain in the competition and hopes were high when he took the opening set of a heated encounter.

The world number two had to save three break points to avoid falling behind early in the second set, but his hold of serve kick-started a run that saw him reel off five straight games to force a decider.

Shapovalov received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct after reacting to boos from the crowd by swearing, though chair umpire Carlos Bernardes later told spectators who continued to jeer the Canadian to "go home".

The 20-year-old showed tremendous character to fight back and take the match to a final-set tie-break after Djokovic jogged to the stands to provide an unwell fan with water while serving for the victory.

Djokovic raced into a 6-1 lead in the tie-break and got the job done at the fourth attempt, completing a 4-6 6-1 7-6 (7-4) triumph.

Serbia finished off a 3-0 victory when Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki defeated Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin 6-3 6-2 in just 58 minutes. They face Russia in the semi-finals.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic ensured they ended the group stages with 100 per cent winning records after victories on day six of the ATP Cup.

Spain and Serbia are safely into the Final 8 and are not among the nations fighting it out to be one of the two best runners-up who join the six group winners in the knockout stage, which will be played in Sydney.

Nadal overcame his toughest test yet with a battling 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win over Yoshihito Nishioka, following up singles wins in earlier ties against Nikoloz Basilashvili and Pablo Cuevas.

The world number one, playing in the heat of the day session for the first time in Perth, was not at his best and made 36 unforced errors.

But Nadal claimed the first set in a tie-break as he recovered from being broken twice, before improving slightly in the second where a solitary strike on Nishioka's serve in game nine proved decisive.

Nadal then played doubles for the first time in the tournament, teaming up with Pablo Carreno Busta in a 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 10-6 win over Ben McLachlan and Go Soeda.

Soeda had earlier lost to Roberto Bautista Agut as Spain, who also won the Davis Cup in November, won their third consecutive tie by a 3-0 scoreline.

"It was the first experience with the heat here in Australia, so we played under heavy conditions and it was tough," said Nadal.

"I played against a player who has started the season on fire, so it was an important victory for me and the team."

Djokovic also made it three wins out of three in singles play with a 6-3 6-3 win over Chile's Cristian Garin in Brisbane.

Serbia won the tie 2-1 and Djokovic, who also beat Kevin Anderson and Gael Monfils earlier in the event as well as winning a doubles encounter against France, will lead his side against one of the best two runners-up in the Final 8.

Djokovic insisted he relished having to play against so many other top players at an early stage of the season.

"I've never minded to face tough adversity from the blocks and have high-intensity matches from day one," he said with the defence of his Australian Open title ahead later this month.

"I had Kevin Anderson who was playing some extraordinary tennis. I thought it was the toughest match I've played here in Brisbane.

"And again against Monfils, even though it was straight sets, it was still a lot of rallies and it was quite long and exhausting.

"I am really happy with the challenges that I've had in the last six, seven days here, and hopefully that can allow me to build my form for Sydney and Melbourne later."

Novak Djokovic inspired a comeback for Serbia as they defeated France 2-1 to seal a place in the ATP Cup quarter-finals.

Djokovic's compatriot Dusan Lajovic lost the opening singles rubber in Brisbane, but the world number two ensured Serbia will progress from Group A.

Motivated and frustrated by a passionate crowd in Serbia's opening tie with South Africa, Djokovic thrived in front of passionate support and made light work of Gael Monfils to level matters, dispatching him 6-3 6-2 to improve his record in their head to head to 16-0.

He and Viktor Troicki then required a match tie-break to see off Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 10-3 and seal victory, delighting fans that stayed into the early hours in Brisbane.

"We love playing for our country," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "Thanks to the people for staying to almost 1am to support us. You guys are true tennis fans."

US Open champion Rafael Nadal was not required for double duty in Spain's tie with Uruguay in Perth, which saw him hammer Pablo Cuevas 6-2 6-1 to give his country an unassailable lead.

Earlier Roberto Bautista Agut hammered Franco Roncadelli, with Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez rounding off the tie with a dead rubber doubles win over Ariel Behar and Juan Martin Fumeaux.

Dominic Thiem defeated Diego Schwartzman in straight sets as Austria beat Argentina 3-0 to claim their first win of the inaugural tournament, while Croatia and Japan remain undefeated after 2-1 victories over Poland and Georgia respectively.

South Africa got off the mark with a 3-0 beating of Chile, Kevin Anderson claiming his first win since Wimbledon following a long lay-off with a knee injury as he eased to a 6-0 6-3 triumph against Cristian Garin.

 

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