WASHINGTON, January 3, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
A brand new tennis year is upon us – albeit, just a month and a bit after the old one ended. The 2020 ATP Tour season officially began Friday Down Under – remodeled, if you will, during the blazing-hot Aussie summer – as 24 countries broken into six groups began 10 days of competition spread across three of Australia’s biggest cities – Brisbane, Perth and Sydney – in the inaugural ATP Cup.
Between now and January 12, there will be a total of 43 ties contested and each city will host two groups of four countries during the round-robin group stage. That’s a lot of teams for tennis fans to sort out not to mention plenty of ties to keep an eye on. Each tie will consist of three matches – two singles (starting with each team’s No. 2 players facing off, then the No. 1s) followed by doubles. From the group stage, the six group winners and two best second-place finishers will advance to the knock-out stage, the Final Eight, as the final four days of the ATP Cup will be played in Sydney. There, it really gets serious. After all, there’s 750 ATP points and $15 million (U.S. dollars) at stake during the competition and the stakes are at their highest during the second week. When points and money – not to mention national pride – are at stake, players do pay attention. There are bonuses for wins and overall performance. The innovative format may yield some unexpected outcomes.
As Day One of the ATP Cup unfolded with a bang on Friday against a backdrop of dark, suffocating wild fires in southeastern Australia, there were three blockbuster matches that garnered everyone’s attention: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov, winners of the last two Next Gen ATP Finals, squared off during Greece’s tie against Canada during Brisbane’s day session, while Alexander Zverev of Germany and Australian No. 1 Alex de Minaur were featured during Brisbane’s night session. Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev from Russia and Fabio Fognini of Italy highlighted play in Perth. That’s six of the current Top 20, alone, out of a total of 10 Top 20 players who saw action on the ATP Cup’s opening day. Add to the Friday lineup David Goffin of Belgium, Russia’s Karen Khachanov, John Isner from the United States and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and that’s a lot of star power.
“I’ve never experienced something like this before,” said Tsitsipas before he took the court for his highly-anticipated opening-day match against Shapovalov. “Coming in strong, motivated, trying to help the rest of the team do well. I feel like a leader. We’re not the favorite but I think we can do well. … I feel super proud representing the Greek colors.”
Tsitsipas and Shapovalov put on an entertaining match for the fans during their two hours and three minutes on Pat Rafter Arena, which the 20-year-old Canadian won 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4). It was Shapovalov’s third head-to-head win over the 21-year-old Greek star and second straight. Canada shut out Greece 3-0.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting start to the season,” said Tennis Channel analyst and Hall of Famer Jim Courier during a Tennis Channel preview of the ATP Cup broadcast in the U.S. “First of all, when you assemble nine of the Top 10 players – I think that 27 of the Top 30 are going to be there – that’s a good start. Players are guaranteed multiple matches and that’s important to them. They are looking for their rhythm as they go into the Australian Open. I think it’s going to be a good event.”
Later on, de Minaur’s relentless play – coupled with the enthusiastic support of the Aussie fans – willed him to a 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over Zverev. It was the first time the Aussie had beaten Zverev in five tries – and he came from a set and a break down to pull out the win and clinch the tie for Australia.
Finally, after a lackluster start, Medvedev rebounded nicely against Fognini and won 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 to clinch Russia’s tie over Italy. “I’m really happy with my win – maybe not so much with some moments of my performance – but most important was to get the win for the country,” said Medvedev during an on-court interview.
Your winners from Day 1 at the #ATPCup are:
🇧🇪 #TeamBelgium 3 – 0 🇲🇩 #TeamMoldova
🇨🇦 #TeamCanada 3 – 0 🇬🇷 #TeamGreece
🇳🇴 #TeamNorway 2 – 1 🇺🇸 #TeamUSA
🇦🇺 #TeamAustralia 3 – 0 🇩🇪 #TeamGermany
🇷🇺 #TeamRussia 3 – 0 🇮🇹 #TeamItaly
🇧🇬 #TeamBulgaria 2 – 1 🇬🇧 #TeamGreatBritain
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 3, 2020
So, what do the players think of the ATP Cup?
For one, Isner, who is anchoring the U.S. team, thinks the timing of the ATP Cup is perfect. “I can just speak of the enthusiasm of our team and the other players in Perth and the other cities,” he told the ATP Tour website. “We’re all very excited to be a part of this first-ever event. I think that’s the most important thing.
“The players are behind it. (It’s) a brand new event, unchartered territory for the ATP to have an event like this. So, to be a part of the first-ever edition of it is pretty special. …
“Every tennis player enjoys coming down to Australia at the start of the year and I think we’re the lucky ones that get to participate in this great event to kick it off.”
Also, Kevin Anderson, who is returning to competitive play for the first time in six months after recovering from an injured right knee that restricted him to just 15 matches in 2019, thinks the ATP Cup will be ideal for him to get in some valuable match play. The South African No. 1 opens his 2020 season against World No. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia on Saturday evening in Brisbane.
“It’s going to be an awesome event representing South Africa and also for the sport of tennis,” said Anderson earlier this week, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Coming back to a big stage, with guaranteed matches is a perfect way to start the season.”
While one day doesn’t make or break an entire ATP Cup, there’s potential for a giant success. It’s not often that three cities combine for one big event. Save for Roger Federer, most of the sport’s most accomplished stars are currently in Australia – think Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, among many – and they’re ready to do battle. While maybe only a handful of the 24 teams realistically have a chance of winning it all, there’s no reason to think that the ATP Cup can’t be the attention-getting event that tennis has long been waiting for to kickoff a brand new season. After all, team competitions seem all the rage in men’s tennis. Let’s give this one a chance.