ATP Cup: Rafael Nadal battles past de Minaur to set Novak Djokovic test

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ATP Cup: Rafael Nadal battles past de Minaur to set Novak Djokovic test

A couple of hours after the incredible clash between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, the crowd at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney witnessed another thrilling contest between world no. 1 Rafael Nadal and the Sydney native Alex de Minaur.

In the first rubber of the semi-final tie between Australia and Spain at the ATP Cup, Roberto Bautista Agut defeated Nick Kyrgios in straight sets to send Spain in front and help Nadal who would propel Spain into the final against Serbia with a win over the top-ranked Aussie.

As it turned out, Rafa had to give his 100% to topple the young rival, beating inspired de Minaur 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 for the fourth victory of the season and additional points on his account in the no. 1 battle with Novak Djokovic ahead of their Sunday's clash and the Australian Open where they played in the title match last year.

As was expected, de Minaur gathered momentum from that epic doubles clash against Great Britain two days ago, throwing everything he had in his arsenal at Nadal and forcing the world's leading player to dig deep for some 100 minutes before he managed to seize the control and cruise towards the finish line and the place in the final.

Both players served above 70% and it was Nadal who played better on the first serve while Alex had the advantage on the second, with the Spaniard suffering two breaks from only three chances offered to the Aussie, delivering four (three in the decider) on the other side to cross the finish line first.

It was the worst possible start for world no. 1, spraying a forehand error in the first game to get broken at 15 and boosting de Minaur's confidence after just a couple of minutes since the first ball they exchanged. Alex never put a foot wrong, staying aggressive and controlling the pace in his games to take the opener 6-4 following a forehand down the line winner in that tenth game.

having to give his best to stay in touch with a mighty opponent, Rafa served well after that break he suffered, both in the first and the second set where he lost just six points behind the initial shot, keeping the pressure on Alex and converting his first break point in the 12th game when de Minaur sent a backhand long.

With the drive on his side, Nadal took 14 of the first 15 points in the decider, earning three breaks in a row (four if we count the end of the second set) to seal the deal and send Spain into the final, just like at the Davis Cup Finals in November.