Djokovic seals victory for Serbia, Austria crash out
WORLD No.2 Novak Djokovic has had to dig deep to overcome a gutsy Kevin Anderson and seal victory for Serbia in their opening ATP Cup tie against South Africa in Brisbane.
But world No.4 Dominic Thiem was not so lucky, upset by Borna Coric as Croatia upstaged Austria to win their tie in Sydney.
Defending Australian Open champion Djokovic was the red hot favourite against former world No.5 Anderson who was playing his first match since July after returning from knee surgery.
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However, two-time grand slam finalist Anderson - now the world No.91 - showed plenty of fight before succumbing 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6) in match lasting almost two and a half hours as Serbia grabbed an unbeatable 2-0 lead.
Djokovic - aiming for a record eighth Australian Open crown this month - extended his head-to-head record against the South African to 9-2. Serbia's Dusan Lajovic came from a set down to beat Lloyd Harris in the singles opener.
Earlier in Brisbane, France downed Chile 2-1 after Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire won their singles matches.
World No.10 Monfils took out Cristian Garin in straight sets and the bearded Paire came back from a set down to beat Nicolas Jarry.
But Chile's Garin and Jarry claimed a surprise straight sets doubles win over Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
While Djokovic avoided an upset, Thiem became the ATP Cup's biggest name to fall.
Two-time French Open finalist Thiem arrived at the inaugural 24-team tournament as one of tennis' hottest properties after being runner-up at November's ATP Finals, losing to Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas.
But world No.28 Coric pulled off a boilover, downing Thiem 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-3 to give Croatia an unbeatable 2-0 lead in their tie at Ken Rosewall Arena.
Meanwhile, Croatia's ex-US Open winner Marin Cilic came back from a set down to oust Dennis Novak in the opening singles rubber.
Earlier in Sydney, Argentina won their tie against Poland when Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni teamed up to down Hubert Hurkacz and Lukasz Kubotbet in straight sets in a doubles decider.
In Perth, it was a much more lopsided affair as Japan brushed aside Uruguay. No.121 Go Soeda overpowered Martin Cuevas - ranked 402 spots lower than his opponent - in straight sets before Uruguay No.1 Pablo Cuevas surprisingly succumbed in 54 minutes 6-0 6-1 to Yoshihito Nishioka.
Despite missing former US Open finalist Kei Nishikori (elbow), Japan completed the whitewash when Toshihide Matsui and Ben McLachlan downed Pablo Cuevas and Ariel Behar 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.
Rafael Nadal's Spain are taking on Georgia in Perth's night session.
BRISBANE (Group A)
France def Chile, 2-1
No.2 singles: Benoit Paire (FRA) def Nicolas Jarry (CHI) 6-7 (7-3) 6-3 6-3
No.1 singles: Gael Monfils (FRA) def Cristian Garin (CHI) 6-3 7-5
Doubles: Cristian Garin and Nicolas Jarry (CHI) def Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Nicolas Mahut (FRA) 7-5 6-2
Serbia def South Africa, 2-0
No.2 singles: Dusan Lajovic (SRB) def Lloyd Harris (RSA) 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3
No.1 singles: Novak Djokovic (SRB) def Kevi Anderson (RSA) 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (8-6)
PERTH (Group B)
Japan def Uruguay, 3-0
No.2 singles: Go Soeda (JPN) def Martin Cuevas (URU) 6-1 6-3
No.1 singles: Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) def Pablo Cuevas (URU) 6-0 6-1
Doubles: Toshihide Matsui and Ben McLachlan (JPN) def Ariel Behar and Pablo Cuevas (URU) 7-6 (7-5) 6-4
SYDNEY (Group E)
Argentina def Poland, 2-1
No.2 singles: Guido Pella (ARG) def Kamil Majchrzak (POL) 6-2 2-6 6-2
No.1 singles: Hubert Hurkacz (POL) def Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 4-6 6-2 6-3
Doubles: Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni (ARG) def Hubert Hurkacz and Lukasz Kubot (POL) 6-2 6-4
Croatia def Austria, 2-0
No.2 singles: Marin Cilic (CRO) def Dennis Novak (AUT) 6-7 (7-4) 6-4 6-4
No.1 singles: Borna Coric (CRO) def Dominic Thiem (AUT) 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-3