Bulgaria Defeats Great Britain At ATP Cup

SYDNEY, January 3, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)

After Norway ended the day session of the inaugural ATP Cup with a bang, the matches of the night session across the three venues — Brisbane, Perth and Sydney — still had to be played and did not disappoint.

Brisbane

In Group F, Aussie Nick Kyrgios and German Jan-Lennard Struff opened the night session at Pat Rafter Arena. In 2018, both already faced each other during the Davis Cup in this stadium, at that time Kyrgios won in straight sets. Almost two years later, he was able to repeat this result to put Australia in front against Germany by beating Struff 6-4, 7-6(4). Right from the beginning, it was a match decided by little margins. A bad service game from Struff at 2-2 in the first set and a brilliant lob by Kyrgios to put himself in lead in the crucial tie-break made the difference.

Kyrgios, who announced that he will be donating $200 per ace that he hits across all the events he plays this Aussie summer to support those affected by the fires in Australia, became very emotional after the match due to the current situation.

“Just seeing my hometown [Canberra] almost being on the alert and having, like, just the worst air quality in the world literally at the moment. It’s just sad to see and it’s just tough,” Kyrgios said. “It’s tough to go out and concentrate on tennis to be honest. Every ace I was hitting that’s all I was thinking about. Every time I stepped up to the line that’s all I was thinking about.”

During the match, Kyrgios hit 20 aces and won 81 per cent (51/63) of his service points. He outpointed his opponent by the score of 62-58.

“First match of the year is always going to be tough. To be honest, I was actually pretty happy with my performance. Obviously, I served well in crucial moments,” Kyrgios said.

In the second match of the tie between Australia and Germany, Alex De Minaur and Alexander Zverev were forced to play each other as they are both representing the No. 1 singles player spot of their country. This match-up has been played four times in the past few years, so far, Zverev has always emerged as the winner. This time, too, it seemed that Zverev was running away from the Australian by getting a quick 5-2 lead in the first set with two breaks.

However, when he went on trying to serve out for the set, first signs of uncertainty appeared, and the German hit his first double fault to handle the re-break to De Minaur. Visibly influenced by the events, Zverev began playing very nervously, but he was able to finally convert his seventh set point after facing another break point to grab the first set 6-4.

He quickly took the lead again in the second set, serving solidly until 4-2, where he had two breakpoints to go ahead with 5-2, but missed them. From then on, the German started faltering massively, and was forced into a decisive tie-break by De Minaur, which he lost by the score of 3-7.

Alex De Minaur, who showed a lot of heart, knowing he could not only beat Zverev for the first time, but also secure the victory for Australia over Germany, went on dominating the rallies in the deciding third set and eventually defeated the 22-year-old German 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 after two hours and 44 minutes.

Overall, Zverev made a total of 14 doubles faults during the match and won just 32 per-cent (12/37) points on his second serve, compared to zero double faults and 58 per-cent (14/24) points won on second serve by the “Demon”.

“This one for me was a really important match,” De Minaur said. “What I’m proud of today is about finding a way to win [against] an opponent who was hitting the ball big, was serving better. I wasn’t getting a lot of free points on my serve, so I just had to try and find ways to win points out there.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a very good match to start the year, start the new season. It’s never easy. You got the added nerves of just a new year, and you’re playing for your country, so all of that together made it a bit more nerve wracking. So I’m [glad] I was able to settle the nerves and get a win for myself and for Australia.”

Chris Guccione and John Peers won the dead doubles rubber against 2019 French Open doubles champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies 6-3, 6-4 to secure a 3-0 victory for Australia.

Interestingly, Guccione used his protected ranking to be able to participate in this tournament. His last appearance in a professional ATP tournament was almost three years ago at the Australian Open in 2017, where he reached the quarterfinals in the doubles competition with his compatriot Samuel Groth.

Perth

Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev put Russia 2-0 ahead in their tie against Italy in Group D.

Khachanov, ranked 23th in the world, defeated his opponent Stefano Travaglia, ranked 61 places lower than him, 7-5, 6-3 in an hour and 28 minutes.

In the first set, the favored Russian was almost beaten as Travaglia started furiously and quickly managed to run away with a double break. After the Italian was unable to convert a set point at 5-2 (40-30) on his own serve, he started a series of unforced errors, which ultimately cost him the set.

Khachanov started to raise his level during the second set, mainly serving-wise, and one break of serve in his favor was enough to eventually grab the second set and close the match.

Overall, the 23-year-old Russian from Moscow hit 6 aces, won 68 per-cent of his service points (44/65) and outpointed his opponent by the score of 69-54.

“It was good to win, no doubt about it,” said Khachanov. “And the first win of the season. I took some time to adjust a little bit to his game as I didn’t know much about him. I think he started pretty aggressively, like, no pressure and played really well until 5-2 up.”

In the second singles rubber, World No. 5 Medvedev and World No. 12 Fabio Fognini were set to face each other on Rac Arena. Just three weeks ago, both met at the Diriyah Tennis Cup Exhibition in Saudi-Arabia during the pre-season, where Medvedev emerged as the victor.

Even though the 32-year-old Italian from San Remo was able to win the first set, Medvedev came out victorious again, winning 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 49 minutes and completing Russia’s victory over Italy.

Medvedev and Khachanov were back on court for the dead doubles rubber. The Russian duo faced Simone Bolelli, who once won the Australian Open in the doubles competition alongside Fognini, and 38-year-old veteran Paolo Lorenzi.

Once again, Medvedev and Khachanov prevailed over their opponents, beating the Italian duo 6-4, 6-3 in an hour and 20 minutes.

Sydney

In Group C, Belgium beat Great Britain winning 2-1. Cameron Norrie and Grigor Dimitrov clinched wins for their respective countries to split tie evenly ahead of the doubles rubber.

Norrie opened proceedings for Great Britain and looked set for a comfortable win after grabbing the first set 6-2, but the 423rd ranked Dimitar Kuzmanov struck back and took the second set. During the beginning of the third set, the Bulgarian appeared to have physical problems, which later led to a medical time-out. With his last strength and visibly ailing, 26-year-old Kuzmanov could not do much damage in the third set and ultimately lost 2-6, 6-3, 2-6 against his favored opponent from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Former World No. 3 Dimitrov was under pressure in the second match, knowing he had to beat Daniel Evans, who is ranked 42nd in the world, to keep alive the chances of winning for Bulgaria in this encounter. Accordingly, he went into the match nervously and found hardly any means against the British number 1. Dimitrov only held his service game once and eventually lost the first set 2-6.

In the course of the match, Dimitrov started serving better and hitting sizeable winners, especially on the backhand side. He hit fourteen backhand winners overall to complete the victory over Evans, coming back from a set down, beating him 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and sixteen minutes to set up a decisive doubles rubber.

Just half an hour later, Dimitrov was back on court for the deciding doubles rubber with Alexandar Lazarov, ranked 471st in the doubles competition, at his side. They faced the United Kingdom’s Jamie Murray, former number 1 in the doubles rankings, and current No. 21 Joe Salisbury.

In the end, Dimitrov and Lazarov were able to fight back from 7-9 down in the deciding tie-break to eventually beat their opponents 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 11-9 and complete Bulgaria’s upset win over Great Britain.

“Zero chance. I was just telling them, ‘Guys, this easily can be a historical moment for us. Just do it to remember.’ I don’t know if in the history, per se, but I think it means a lot for the whole team,” Dimitrov said. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we play. I think this event has been a great start for us, great start of the year, great start of the event. But all I can say is I’m just really proud of the boys.”