Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic kickstarted their build-up to the Australian Open with straight-sets wins at the ATP Cup Saturday, but world number four Dominic Thiem slumped to defeat.
Top-ranked Nadal had little trouble with Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, racing to a 6-3, 7-5 victory, while long-time rival Djokovic was given more of a test by South Africa’s Kevin Anderson before overcoming him 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6).
Their wins ensured Spain and Serbia clinched their ties at the inaugural 24-nation team event, where the countries are split into six groups across Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
The top eight from the round-robin go onto the knockout phase in Sydney before one is eventually crowned the winner.
France, Argentina, Croatia and Japan also began their tournament in style, winning their ties to join day one victors Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Norway, Russia and Australia.
“I’m super, super happy to be here in Perth for first time in my life. It’s an amazing arena and a great crowd,” said Nadal.
“It was tough first match of the season, not an easy start. But I think I played a great game.”
Earlier, his teammate Roberto Bautista Agut crushed a hapless Aleksandre Metreveli 6-0, 6-0.
Serbian superstar Djokovic needed to produce some of his best tennis to see off the big-serving Anderson, admitting it was a testing encounter.
“What a way to start the year,” he said. “He was on fire tonight — I think the quality of tennis was quite high. “I was very pleased with the way I kind of weathered the storm.”
His teammate Dusan Lajovic outlasted Lloyd Harris 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.