World no. 1 Novak Djokovic kicked off the ATP Cup title defense with a hard-fought 7-5, 7-5 triumph over Denis Shapovalov in an hour and 53 minutes. Thus, the doubles rubber will decide the tie winner, as Milos Raonic bested Dusan Lajovic in the opening match, also in straight sets.
Novak and Denis were the rivals at the last year's ATP Cup as well, with the Serb prevailing 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 after two hours and 40 minutes. Denis gave his best to challenge Novak today in their sixth meeting, getting broken in the closing stages of both sets to finish on the losing side.
The Serb served at 70% and lost only 14 points in 12 service games, never facing a break point and mounting the pressure on the youngster all the time. Like last year, Shapovalov had more winners and more unforced errors (25-38), just falling short of reaching at least one tie break.
Novak held at 15 with a service winner in the first game, and a left-hander followed that with a hold at love for 1-1. The world's leading player held at love after a wild forehand from Shapovalov in game three, creating two break chances in the next one.
Denis fended off both and held after three deuces with a booming ace to avoid an early setback and remain in touch. From 30-0 down, the youngster claimed four straight points in game six before Novak fired a forehand down the line bullet in the next one for a 4-3 lead.
Both players served well in the upcoming three games, with a deuce on Djokovic's serve at 5-5.
Novak Djokovic prevailed over Denis Shapovalov in two tight sets.
The Serb secured that game and erased Shapovalov's two game points a few minutes later to grab a break and steal the set 7-5, followed by a massive roar towards the crowd.
Denis forced Novak's error in the second set's second game to save a break point and fired two winners at deuce at 3-4 to follow the rival's pace and stay in contention. Both players produced fine holds in games nine and ten, and Djokovic closed the 11th game with a service winner to open a 6-5 gap.
Returning in the next game, the 17-time Major champion painted a forehand down the line winner to earn a break and move over the top, happy with how he performed and announcing he would also play the doubles match.