Alexander Zverev bounced back after a tough singles defeat to world number one Novak Djokovic on Friday to help Germany seal their spot in the semi-finals of the ATP Cup for the first time.

Zverev partnered Jan-Lennard Struff to register a 7-6(4), 5-7, 10-7 win in the deciding doubles rubber against Djokovic and Nikola Cacic.

Struff was Germany’s hero, having earlier won the No. 2 singles against Dusan Lajovic, before teaming with Zverev to seal the tie for Germany 2-1, knocking out the defending champion.

Germany advances to face Russia, the Group D winner, in Saturday’s semi-finals, with the final to be played on Sunday. Team Russia is led by the double threat of Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, who are both ranked inside the Top 10 in the ATP rankings.

In a dramatic doubles, the Germans won six straight points from 2/4 down in the match tie-break, freezing out Djokovic at every opportunity and directing as much traffic as possible to the more inexperienced Cacic. In last year’s ATP Cup final, Djokovic backed up from his singles win over Rafael Nadal to partner Viktor Troicki in the deciding doubles, which earned Serbia the inaugural title.

In the No.1 singles match, Djokovic extended his record at the ATP Cup to 11 straight wins after winning a three-set thriller against Zverev 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5 to keep defending Serbia alive in the tie.

“I thought we both played well,” Djokovic said on court. “He definitely had a big serving match. It was so difficult to play against him today. Missiles from the other side of the court, both first and second serve. He was going for it, not too many double faults. You’ve got to give him credit for being courageous and trying his best… Overall it was a very enjoyable match.”

There was little to separate between Zverev and Djokovic throughout a tense opening set under the roof in Rod Laver Arena. There were no break-points on offer as both players leaned on big first serves to take control of the rallies. Zverev pulled away in the tie-break and closed out the set with an ace.

The Serbian adjusted his return position to deal with Zverev’s powerful second serves, the German gambling with first-serve levels of speed and power. Djokovic took a step back and was rewarded with his first break of the match. He reeled off three games in a row to take a 5-2 lead with a perfectly placed lob landing plumb on the line.

Djokovic broke through late in the third set to take a 5-4 lead, but struggled to close it out the as the German saved a match point. With his back against the wall, Zverev finally earned his first break chance of the match in the third, breaking the world number one to level the score. But two double faults in the next game undid his effort, and gave Djokovic the opening to break back and claim his 11th consecutive ATP Cup victory.

Earlier in the day, Struff took Germany to the brink of its first appearance in the ATP Cup semi-finals after rallying to defeat Dusan Lajovic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

–IANS

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