Novak Djokovic fought past Alexander Zverev but it wasn’t enough to debar defeat for Serbia within the ATP Cup Friday, with Germany making the semi-finals alongside a Spanish team missing injured Rafael Nadal.

The world favorite , who is ramping up preparations to defend his Australian Open crown, was tested in his singles rubber before outlasting Zverev 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 7-5.

But the German got revenge within the deciding doubles, teaming with Jan-Lennard Struff to edge Djokovic and Nikola Cacic 7-6 (7/4), 5-7, 10-7 and ensure they made a final four clash against Daniil Medvedev’s Russia.

Struff earlier beat Dusan Lajovic within the other singles tie.

“It was so difficult to play against (Zverev) today. Missiles from the opposite side of the court, both first and second serve,” said Djokovic, who led his country to the inaugural title last year.

“He was going for it, not too many double faults. you’ve to offer him credit for being courageous and trying his best.”

Meanwhile, Nadal was once more missing from the Spanish team as they lost 2-1 to Greece.

He watched from the team box as Pablo Carreno Busta and Roberto Bautista Agut led the challenge against Michail Pervolarakis and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Carreno Busta, ranked 16th, had few problems in thrashing Pervolarakis 6-3, 6-4 to ensure their spot within the playoff rounds against Italy.

Australia was already eliminated from their group heading into Friday’s match, while Greece needed to win the tie 3-0 to advance.

“With this victory, we are into the semi-finals, so it had been vital to us,” Carreno Busta said. “I tried to be focussed on myself, to undertake to play my best game.”

Bautista Agut couldn’t match the exploits, crashing 7-5, 7-5 to world number six Tsitsipas, who boasts two wins from two during a promising start to his season.

“I think I played very solid throughout the entire match and showed aggression,” said the Greek. “My forehand was ablaze , my serve was working rather well on behalf of me .”

The Dominic Thiem-led Austria meet France later Friday with the ultimate group tie between Argentina and Japan on Saturday.

The results mean 17-time slam champion Djokovic has four tough matches under his belt — two singles and two doubles — as he targets a record-extending ninth Australian Open title.

In contrast, Nadal hasn’t played a competitive game since the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in London on November 21.

His only appearance since was an exhibition against Thiem in Adelaide last week, with a back injury casting a shadow over his hopes of a record-setting 21st slam title in Melbourne.

He pulled out of Spain’s opening ATP game at short notice also as missing the Greece game on Friday.

“I’m not tolerably to play. I’m improving bit by bit, but I’m not able to play a match with maximum intensity,” Nadal told Spanish broadcaster Vamos.

The Australian Open gets underway on Monday with Nadal, the 2009 champion, looking to edge before Roger Federer who also has 20 Slam titles to his name.

The injured Swiss great isn’t playing and can only return to the tour in Doha in March.


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