This Year’s Hopman Cup Was Wildly Popular, Yet It’s At A Crossroads

Hopman Cup

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

During its 31-year history, the Hopman Cup has been a unique tennis event – part playful and relaxed mixed-team exhibition, part meaningful tune-up for its participants – leading up to the Australian Open. Named in honor of Harry Hopman, one of Australia’s greatest tennis players and coaches, since 1997 the Hopman Cup has been an officially sanctioned International Tennis Federation team competition. It is financed by Tourism W.A., Western Australia’s government tourism board.

However, with the ATP Cup, a 10-day tournament featuring men’s teams from 24 countries competing for $15 million in prize money and rankings points debuting next year at the start of January, spread across three Australian cities, the Hopman Cup faces extinction after more than three decades of bringing together the best men’s and women’s players representing eight countries and competing in a mixed-team format (men’s and women’s singles and mixed doubles). Despite it’s wild popularity among both players and fans, it would be difficult seeing two competing team tournaments involving men – both sanctioned by Tennis Australia – being held at the same time.

This year’s Hopman Cup competed against ATP 250 events in Doha, Qatar, and Pune, India, while the WTA hosted International events in Auckland, New Zealand, and Shenzhen, China. Plus, there was a combined ATP/WTA event held in Brisbane, Australia. With the ATP Cup looming next year, it remains to be seen how the first week of January will shake out for either the ATP and WTA.

“In the wider tennis community, the Hopman Cup’s uniqueness is appreciated,” wrote New York Times tennis correspondent Ben Rothenberg on Sunday. “It has rarely sparked the tribal passions on which Davis Cup prides itself, but the Hopman Cup has been a crowd-pleasing event, cherished by tennis fans who have savored the opportunity to see the sport’s top women and top men compete and commingle.”

This year’s Hopman Cup field featured three current top 10 players and four Grand Slam singles champions, including: world No. 2 and three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, world No. 3 and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza. Plus, rising stars of the game like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Maria Sakkari and Katie Boulter were showcased. Host Australia was represented by two of its most popular players, Ash Barty and Matt Ebden. When Switzerland faced the United States last Tuesday, it featured Federer and Williams playing against each other for the first time in their storied careers – producing a post-match selfie that went viral – and more than 14,000 fans packed Perth’s colorful and modern RAC Arena to witness it all.

Switzerland defeated Germany 

On Saturday, before its largest final-day crowd in tournament history, the Hopman Cup crowned Switzerland as its latest – and, maybe, last – champion. With Swiss precision, Federer and Belinda Bencic won their second consecutive Hopman Cup by defeating Germany’s Zverev and Kerber, 2-1. In a rematch of the 2018 final, it produced a similar outcome. It marked the third time Federer has won the Hopman Cup title and the fourth time overall for Switzerland.

“Men and women, we share a lot of tournaments together, but it’s not the same as when you play each other or share the same court,” said Federer in describing his continued attraction to playing in the Hopman Cup and using it as his springboard for launching each new season. “So I think the players have always enjoyed this event.

“The fans are great. … I’m happy and proud to represent my country. It’s been a super pleasure this year and last year with Belinda – and winning it both years. I’m happy with the records but I didn’t come here for that.

“It’s a place that’s given me some good feelings for the rest of the season and I love playing in Australia.”

Bencic said she’s been appreciative of the Hopman Cup experience. “It’s amazing when you see all the Swiss flags in the stands. To represent your country and remember all the people watching at home, it’s amazing.”

Throughout the week, players were given an opportunity to get outside their comfort zone and gain an appreciation of the region by visiting various parts of Perth and Western Australia. For instance, Federer visited the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park and played tennis with a group of youngsters while Kerber and Zverev visited Rottnest Island and took a selfie with a quokka. Also, Barty and Ebden learned to make coffee at Community Coffee Co., a new café in Subiaco, and Tsitsipas and Sakkari engaged with wombats, kangaroos and koalas at Caversham Wildlife Park.

Extensive media coverage

This year’s Hopman Cup was televised through Australia and also broadcast to a world-wide audience. One need only look at how Saturday’s final turned on one single point – an 18-point rally on a winner-take-all championship point, won by Federer and Bencic – to realize how beloved the competition has become. It was highly entertaining and decisive at the same time. One would hope that this championship point – alone – should be enough to save the tournament. If not, at least they finished the Hopman Cup with style.

“The No. 1 player in the world loses … and the story of the day is mixed doubles,” tweeted Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim. “That doesn’t happen often.”

Largest tournament attendance in the event’s history

Final-day attendance at RAC Arena – the tournament’s home court since 2013 – was 14,032, the highest-ever attendance for a Hopman Cup final. A record total of 110,364 fans attended the matches throughout the week.

Looking ahead, Tennis Australia is under contract through 2022 to manage the Hopman Cup, and ITF President David Haggerty has been quoted as saying the event was “very, very important and should continue.” He told The New York Times, “We’re just excited to continue to see Hopman Cup through because it is a great way to have the men and women playing.”

Still, the Hopman Cup finds itself at a crossroads despite its success and popularity with both players and fans. There’s uncertainty about the tournament’s future, and as Rothenberg tweeted during the trophy ceremony, “A conspicuous lack of any sort of ‘See you next year!’ Messages from organizers.”

“We, of course as players, hope the Hopman Cup survives,” said Federer during a press conference after the trophy ceremony. “We hope that Perth will see great tennis in the future. I’ll support this city and I hope it continues to have great, quality tennis. It’s important and the players feel super welcome – and the crowds deserve it.”