With The 2020 Season Arrived, The Tennis Landscape Down Under Just Isn’t The Same

WASHINGTON, January 1, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

During the 31-year history of the Hopman Cup, named in honor of Harry Hopman, one of Australia’s greatest tennis players and coaches – and since 1997 an officially sanctioned International Tennis Federation team competition financed by Tourism W.A., Western Australia’s tourism board – Perth was the setting of a unique mixed-team tennis exhibition.

The Hopman Cup event was both playful and relaxed, but always it was a meaningful tune-up for its participants leading up to the Australian Open. Among it champions are many Hall of Famers, including: Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Boris Becker and Michael Stich. It received extensive television coverage throughout Australia – and, more recently, elsewhere in the world – despite the absence of rankings points for any of its participants.

This year, the Hopman Cup has been replaced by the ATP Cup, a new and innovative team event that kicks off the 2020 tennis calendar across three Australian cities – Perth, Sydney and Brisbane – over 10 days, from January 3-12, and featuring 24 teams competing for $15 million (U.S. dollars) in prize money and 750 rankings points.

Last year’s Hopman Cup at Perth Arena, which was won by Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic of Switzerland – and who could forget Federer matching up against Serena Williams in mixed doubles, which drew a record attendance of 14,064 fans – 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.

Fast forward to this year and the ATP Cup dominates the early portion of the January calendar. The Doha event is still on the men’s schedule and Shenzhen and Auckland for the women during the first week of the new year. However, Brisbane has become a WTA Premier tournament and the ATP/WTA event has shifted locations to Adelaide. There are a total of five women’s tournaments leading up to the Australian Open while there’s just three plus the ATP Cup for the men.

The ITF has said that the Hopman Cup will return in 2021 and is currently searching for a new venue. However, 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), it will be difficult seeing two competing team tournaments involving men – both sanctioned by Tennis Australia – being held at the same time.

Until an announcement is made on the future of the Hopman Cup, Federer, who is the most successful individual player in Hopman Cup history with three titles (his first came in 2001 paired with Martina Hingis), remains idle until the Australian Open instead of traditionally opening his year with the Hopman Cup. He and Bencic are in the Hopman Cup record books as the first pairing to successfully defend their title, winning in 2018 and 2019 – both times over Angelique Kerber and Alexander Zverev of Germany. The United States holds the record for winning the Hopman Cup six times (1997, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011).

Last March, when Perth was added to the list of cities playing host to the inaugural ATP Cup, ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement: “The ITF is committed to upholding the core values of the Hopman Cup in the future and are encouraged by the interest that has already been expressed.

“We are in discussions with potential partners to decide where and when this tournament will be next hosted. We will keep the Hopman Cup alive and look forward to successful future editions of this unique event.”

Let’s hope that Haggerty is true to his word and ideal. Until then, we’ll always have the memories of Federer and Williams from a year ago, the sport’s two biggest names – and arguably its greatest male and female players of all time – battling in good sportsmanship and having fun Down Under. It ended with an abundance of applause and plenty of smiles, and with Roger graciously posing with Serena on the Perth Arena center court for a selfie that quickly went viral on social media and was enjoyed by tennis fans around the world.