The No 2-ranked Djokovic, winner of a record seven Australian Open titles, was able to feed off the large Serbian crowd at Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane to ensure his country got the new, season-opening team event started with a victory in Group A.
But he also had to remonstrate with the crowd when things got tense in the first tiebreaker, when spectators called out during rallies on consecutive points and Djokovic yelled toward the stands and held his finger to his lips to demand quiet. The chair umpire also intervened to ask the crowd to “show good sportsmanship”.
Top-ranked Rafael Nadal had an easier time in clinching Spain’s win over Georgia, on the opposite side of Australia, beating Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 7-5 in Perth. Roberto Bautista Agut got Spain away to a flyer with a 6-0, 6-0 win over No 678-ranked Aleksandre Metreveli.
The night time matches in Groups A and B were both sealed before the doubles, but in starkly contrasting fashion. Former No 5-ranked Anderson was coming off an injury-plagued season, including surgery on his right knee last September, and couldn’t initially keep up as Djokovic dropped just two points in the first three games and raced to a 4-1 lead.
But the 6ft 8in South African warmed to the task and broke Djokovic’s serve in the seventh game when he chased down a drop shot and produced a forehand winner. Then he saved five break points in the eighth game to get back on serve, heightening tension in the crowd and sparking chants of “Nole, Nole, Nole, Nole” from the pro-Djokovic crowd, referring to his nickname.
The second set went with serve and ended in another tiebreaker, with Anderson getting a chance to serve for the set at 6-5 when he hit a cross-court winner. But he netted a forehand, and Djokovic finished him off with a curling forehand winner to set up match point and then hit a winning volley.
He leaped into the air and pumped his fists high to celebrate. “Thank you for hanging in there [and for] showing a passion for this sport,” Djokovic said in an on-court TV interview. “I started off extremely well, Kevin raised his game. His quality of tennis was high. I was pleased with the way I managed to weather the storm.”
Dusan Lajovic had earlier beaten Lloyd Harris 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to give Serbia a 1-0 lead, also getting a boost from the crowd.
In the other Group A match, Gael Monfils secured France’s victory over Chile when he rallied from a break down in the second set to defeat Cristian Garin 6-3, 7-5. Benoit Paire opened for France with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Nicolas Jarry. Chile cut the final margin to 2-1 when Jarry and Garin combined to win the doubles.
Japan swept its opening Group B match with straight-sets wins in both singles and the doubles against Uruguay in Perth, while Argentina needed a win in the doubles to edge Poland 2-1 in their Group E match in Sydney. Guido Pella gave Argentina the lead with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Kamil Majchrzak before Hubert Hurkacz levelled with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman. Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni beat Hurkacz and Lukasz Kubot 6-2, 6-4 to seal the win.
Britain, who lost their opening Group C match to Bulgaria on Friday, face Belgium today.