Novak Djokovic cruises past Rafael Nadal to prove gulf in class ahead of Australian Open

The 55th meeting between the pair went the Serb world No 2's way 6-2, 7-6

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts to winning a point against Rafael Nadal of Spain during their ATP Cup tennis match in Sydney, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Christo)

The fact Rafael Nadal managed to push his ATP Cup final showdown with Novak Djokovic to a second set tiebreak is testament to his unrivalled fighting qualities.

In reality, though, this was another clinic from the Serb, who was always in firm control to clinch a 6-2, 7-6 win over his long-time Spanish rival in Sydney.

Djokovic's win levelled the tie after Roberto Bautista Agut had earlier given Spain the lead with his win over Dusan Lajovic. But really, outside of Serbia and Spain, the result between the nation's top two seeds will resonate much more than which team goes on to win the inaugural title in the deciding doubles match.

The last time Djokovic and Nadal met on a hard court was nearly 12 months ago in the Australian Open final. Then, Djokovic restricted Nadal to just eight games and while Sunday's encounter in Sydney appeared more competitive, the gulf in class between the world's top two male players in these conditions was once again evident.

It was the 55th meeting between the pair in what is the defining rivalry of a generation of men's tennis. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 29-26 and has won nine of their past 12 matches.

"Every time I get to play Rafa we get to play a lot of exciting points. There were some incredible exchanges today," Djokovic said.

"I started off the match perfectly, everything worked. I'm just really glad I held my nerve in the end."

Djokovic's ATP Cup form is ominous for Nadal and the rest of the Australian Open field ahead of the season's first Grand Slam, starting next Monday. The Serbian world No 2 is bidding for an eighth trophy at Melbourne Park, and based on the past two weeks, it will take something extraordinary to prevent him from clinching a 17the major title.

Djokovic showed his intent immediately, breaking Nadal in the opening game when the Spaniard netted a backhand, and there was no let-up.

His driving groundstrokes and deft touches proved too much with Nadal's serve constantly under siege as Djokovic delivered a booming ace to wrap up the first set.

Ever the fighter, Nadal lifted to another level in the second set and it was an intense affair, with Djokovic saving five break points in a crucial sixth game. But it was the only time the Serb was under any pressure.

It went to a tiebreaker where a crunching backhand down the line from the Serb gave him the break he needed to complete the victory.

An hour after that result, Djokovic went back on court and won the deciding doubles encounter to secure Serbia’s victory in the inaugural ATP Cup.

Djokivic teamed up with Victor Troicki to seal a 6-3, 6-4 win over Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez. Nadal withdrew from the doubles match citing fatigue.