United Cup: Dominant Djokovic beats Zhang to make winning start to season

Perth: Novak Djokovic started the season the way he ended, winning his match to give Serbia a 1-0 lead over China in a preliminary league match of the United Cup mixed teams tennis tournament on Sunday.

In his last match of the previous season, Djokovic defeated Jannik Sinner in the final of the 2023 ATP Finals to defend his title.

On Saturday, in his first match of the new season, the No. 1 in the ATP Rankings eased past Zhang Zhizhen 6-3, 6-2 to give Serbia a 1-0 lead in its Group clash with China in Perth. Djokovic was rock-solid in all facets of his game as he notched a 74-minute triumph in his first ATP head-to-head meeting with Zhang.

“It’s great to be back in Perth,” said Djokovic, addressing the crowd. “New Year’s is in a few hours, so I really appreciate you coming to hopefully celebrate New Year’s Eve with us here on the court. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in Perth, and this arena is definitely one of the nicest, from inside and outside, that I’ve played in.

“Obviously Australia has been my happy place. The place where I made the most Slam wins is Melbourne, and I love coming back. I missed playing in Perth as well,” he said.

Djokovic converted three of the seven break points he earned to delight the Serbian contingent in the stands at RAC Arena. He is now 17-1 in season-opening matches since the start of 2007.

The 36-year-old Djokovic will play one more match before the calendar year ends when he teams up with Olga Danilovic in the mixed doubles later on Sunday evening.

Before then, China will hope to bounce back quickly in the tie as it seeks a quarterfinal spot on United Cup debut. The Asian country will look to WTA World No.15 Zheng Qinwen, who meets No.104 Danilovic in the WTA singles match next, as it looks to back up its opening 3-0 triumph against the Czech Republic.

“I was a little bit rusty in the beginning, a little bit out of rhythm in the first five or six games, but it’s normal,” said Djokovic after the match. “When you don’t play an official match for over a month, it obviously takes a little bit of time to get the engines going and he was serving well. I think the serve was great on my part, whenever I needed to get myself out of trouble, at 15/15 or 30/30 in my service games, I found a good serve,” he said.

IANS

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