Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin have combined in a deciding doubles rubber to propel Russia into the semi-finals of the ATP Cup for a third consecutive year.
It wasn’t the ideal start for Team Russia who found themselves in an 0-1 hole after Safiullin was dispatched 7-6(6), 6-3 by Italy’s Jannik Sinner in an hour and 58 minutes.
Safiullin was by no means outmatched on Ken Rosewall Arena, often equalling his opponent for pace and power but when it mattered most, Sinner’s experience came to the fore.
The 20-year-old phenom was clinical when necessary, holding his nerve on three set points and saving a remarkable 10 of 11 breakpoints.
“I love to play for Italy and am very happy to be up 1-0 and now we’ll see how Matteo can do against the No. 2 player in the world,” Sinner said in his on-court interview post-match.
“It will be a tough challenge for him.”
And the Italian wasn’t lying – World No. 7 Berrettini faced an uphill battle against the reigning US Open champion and ultimately went down 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4.
Medvedev employed his customary return position well beyond the baseline throughout the match to negate Berrettini’s serve and found success early, breaking his opponent twice on his way to claiming the first set.
With the chance to secure the tie slipping away, the Italian took his serve up a notch by putting 86% of first serves into play en route to claiming the following set in a tiebreak.
In the third, Medvedev retained his stance on return and for good reason, a regression to the mean for the Italian’s serve was inevitable. The Russian needed just the one break to claim the set and match.
Post-match, Medvedev explained the difficulty that facing top players poses.
"The first set I was in control and it's tricky because you think that things will continue to go your way but that's not the case when you're up against a Top 10 player," he said.
"I made some bad decisions in the second set, so I tried to learn from that in the third. I served well throughout the match and that helped me."
With a semi-final berth on the line, the deciding doubles rubber fittingly featured each of the players that had appeared in singles action.
In the end, it was last year’s champions who reigned supreme – Medvedev and Safiullin
defeating Berrettini and Sinner 7-5, 4-6, 10-5 in a tense affair worthy of an ATP Cup final.
The match was tight from the outset, but the Russian combination held their nerve, breaking twice and winning 89 per cent of their first-serve points to advance to meet the winner of Group C.
The drama was by no means limited to Ken Rosewall Arena though as Great Britain and the USA were both fighting for a shot at semi-final action over at Qudos Bank Arena.
World No. 25 Daniel Evans kicked the day off on the right note when he overwhelmed the big-serving John Isner 6-4, 7-6(3) in an hour and 35 minutes.
Evans made a point of starting the match well and applied plenty of pressure to the typically rock-solid service game of the American. The Briton broke in the third game of the set and never looked back.
Isner lifted his game in the second, but Evans’ consistency remained something to behold. Across the match, he hit 25 winners to just four unforced errors and that level extended to the tiebreak that delivered victory.
“It's great to come through and set the tone, not just for my match, but for the tie,” Evans said post-match.
“We needed this one, so it was important."
And need it they did because American Taylor Fritz would soon prove too much to handle for World No. 12 Cam Norrie 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1.
The tie looked to be heading in the direction of Great Britain after the completion of the second set, but Fritz regrouped and quickly broke Norrie by attacking his backhand wing.
Post-match Fritz was quizzed on how he managed to turn the match and tie around.
"I had to just let it go in the third set, reset and try to serve a little better so he didn't get so many chances to hit those unreal shots and I upped my level a lot in the third and played really well."
Shorthanded this week, Team USA have required Fritz and Isner to front up for doubles as well as singles and they were again called upon for the deciding doubles rubber.
On the opposite side of the net, Jamie Murray and Daniel Evans represented Great Britain with the hope of keeping their semi-final ambitions alive.
Ultimately, the Fritz-Isner combination competed valiantly and even led by a set-and-a-break before Murray and Evans turned the screws to complete the comeback 6-7(3), 7-5, [10-8] in an hour and 50 minutes.
All eyes in Group C now turn to tonight’s tie between Canada and Germany with Great Britain cheering for a German victory to deliver them into the semi-finals. If the Canadians are successful, they will progress to face Russia.