Novak Djokovic left to rue ‘bitter’ end to season as Serbia beaten in Davis Cup
Djokovic held three match points in singles against Sinner but was unable to claim victory for his country.
Novak Djokovic was left to rue a “bitter” end to another record-breaking season after losing twice to Jannik Sinner as Italy defeated Serbia to reach the Davis Cup final.
The world number one suffered an unwanted career first when he failed to convert three consecutive match points in a pulsating 6-2 2-6 7-5 singles loss – his first in the competition in 22 matches and 12 years.
Serbia had led 1-0 in the semi-final in Malaga thanks to Miomir Kecmanovic’s win over Lorenzo Musetti but Djokovic’s defeat sent the tie to a deciding doubles contest.
Djokovic and Sinner lined up on opposite sides of the net for the fourth time in less than two weeks alongside Kecmanovic and Lorenzo Sonego respectively, and it was the Italian duo who clinched a 6-3 6-4 win to send their country through to a clash with Australia for the title on Sunday.
Djokovic had hoped to crown the season in which he became the most successful man in tennis history with a second Davis Cup title, and he made no attempt to hide his disappointment.
“Congratulations to Italy for qualifying for the finals,” he said. “They deserved it. They played really well, particularly Jannik, in singles against me and then doubles, as well. He barely missed a ball the entire match.
“For me personally it’s a huge disappointment, because I take the responsibility, obviously having three match points, being so close to winning it. It’s unfortunate really. This is sport. When you lose for your country, the bitter feeling is even greater.”
After Kecmanovic had backed up his fine showing against Britain’s Jack Draper by coming from a set down to defeat Musetti 6-7 (7) 6-2 6-1, the stage seemed set for Djokovic to send Serbia through to the final.
The confidence Sinner had gained from his group stage victory over Djokovic at the ATP Finals was negated by a convincing loss in the final but the world number one looked fatigued, perhaps more mentally than physically, during the first set.
Both men had headed straight from Turin to Malaga but Sinner is 14 years younger than his rival and he took full advantage of some uncharacteristic errors to reel off five games in a row.
It was another excellent atmosphere at the Palacio de Deportes Martin Carpena, befitting the sort of marquee clash that Davis Cup has not seen enough of over the last decade and more.
Djokovic showed more positive energy at the start of the second set and was pushing for a break throughout the decider.
But Sinner refused to buckle, saving break points in two separate games prior to his remarkable renaissance at 4-5, when he won five points in a row from 0-40.
In a reminder that even the very best are not immune to pressure, the Serbian was then broken himself and Sinner served out a stunning victory.
Djokovic’s record in doubles is poor and, in a contest that made up for in drama what it lacked in quality, the Italian duo claimed a deserved victory to crown Sinner’s special day.
The world number one, who again became involved with the crowd, this time conducting along to Italian jeers, refused to blame fatigue, saying: “I don’t want to talk about it because it’s going to sound like an excuse.
“Obviously this is a tough one to swallow. I was really trying to hype myself and encourage myself for this week. Throughout the entire season, my thoughts were this week with my Davis Cup team. I tried to contribute. I did in the first tie, but today it wasn’t meant to be.”
Italy will compete in their first final since 1998 and are bidding to win a first title since back in 1976.
Sinner said of his remarkable day: “It means a lot. I think I have to be really proud about how I handled the situation.
“I’m just very happy for all of us, for the team, and tomorrow we have a great opportunity. We know this but, in the other way, we will try to stay as relaxed as possible, keeping a smile in our head, which is important also, and then also to be happy to be here.”