WASHINGTON, January 6, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
As Day Five at the inaugural ATP Cup unfolds across three Australian cities on Tuesday, half of the 24-team field will contest their final group stage ties. With Australia already advanced from Group F to the knockout round Final Eight in Sydney beginning Thursday, thanks to back-to-back 3-0 victories over Germany and Canada, first place in Group C and D remains up for grabs.
Here’s sorting through the details:
• Surprising Bulgaria (2-0) enters the final day of Group C play in Sydney undefeated with earlier tie victories over Great Britain and Moldova. However, both Belgium (1-1) and Great Britain (1-1) can still finish as the group’s winner. World No. 11 David Goffin and No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov are the two highest-ranked players competing in Group C and Dimitrov carries an 8-1 career win-loss record against Goffin into their No. 1 singles match when Bulgaria faces Belgium Tuesday night. Speaking of Dimitrov, who is captaining the Bulgarian team, he’s started 2020 with impressive wins over Daniel Evans of Great Britain, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, and Radu Albot of Moldova, 6-2, 6-3.
“I don’t know if ‘surprise’ is the right word,” Dimitrov said, after Bulgaria beat Moldova 2-1 on Sunday. “I think coming into this thing, I knew that if we come together, we have a great opportunity.
“I mean, I know I have to not only believe in myself now but I have to believe in the players that are with me.” That includes No. 417 Dimitar Kuzmanov, who has split his two singles matches, and Alexandar Lazarov, who teamed with Dimitrov for a three-set doubles win against Great Britain.
“My only goal was, and I’m honest on that, was just to put them together, to make sure we practice together, to make sure they learn something from me, to make sure they are surrounded by the top players. That was my main goal. I just really, really wanted them to experience that, to learn how to be more disciplined, more professional.”
• Russia (2-0), undefeated in singles behind the 1-2 punch of Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov, faces Norway in Perth. If Russia wins the tie – and it should – it wins Group D and will advance to Sydney. However, the underdog Norwegians (1-1) can still finish first in the group with a victory over the Russians.
• Australia hopes to maintain its winning edge when it opposes Greece in Group F play in Brisbane. The No. 1 singles rubber between World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 18 Alex de Minaur should keep everyone’s interest at peak level. Tsitsipas owns a 3-0 lifetime record against de Minaur.
• Second place in the Group F is at stake when Germany and Canada, both 1-1, face off in Brisbane. Remember, the top two second-place teams will round out the Final Eight field for Sydney. The Jan-Lennard Struff/Felix Auger-Aliassime match at No. 2 singles sets the table for the No. 1 singles clash between World No. 7 Alexander Zverev and No. 14 Denis Shapovalov. Zverev leads their head-to-head 3-1, but Shapovalov won most recently last October at the Rolex Paris Masters. This tie could be decided by doubles and Germany holds the edge with reigning French Open champions Andreas Mies and Kevin Krawietz on its side.
Meanwhile, on Monday night in Brisbane, Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki lifted Serbia to a 2-1 victory over France to win Group A and qualify for the ATP Cup Final Eight.
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 6, 2020
With fires spreading, Australian Open under threat
Main draw play begins at the Australian Open on January 20. Just two weeks before the first Grand Slam of 2020 is set to commence, the Daily Mail of London reports that because smoke has descended on Melbourne from the ongoing bushfires in southeast Australia, tournament organizers are facing the possibility of playing “an unprecedented amount of matches indoors to combat poor air quality if the country’s bushfires persist this month.”
— Shane Liyanage (@LiyanageShane) January 3, 2020
What kind of contingency plans are being formulated? For one, the potential suspension of matches if conditions become hazardous to the players. Another calls for the potentially extended use of the three main arenas at Melbourne Park, each which have roofs and a combined total capacity of 31,500 seats. There are also eight indoor practice courts which could be put into use.
Although this week’s ATP Challenger tournament in Canberra was moved to Bendigo, about 400 miles away from the Australian capital city and two hours northwest of Melbourne, currently there are no plans to move any other lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open. This includes a combined ATP 250/WTA Premier event in Adelaide, beginning January 12, and a WTA International event in Hobart, which starts January 13.
“We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events,” Australian Open tournament director and Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said, quoted by multiple sources. “Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyze all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.”
Tiley added: “The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.”
What do the players think? For one, seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, who is president of the ATP player council, said last weekend that he planned to put the subject of air quality considerations on the agenda for the pre-Australian Open player meeting in Melbourne.
Djokovic told The New York Times: “If it continues the same way and if the quality of air is affected in Melbourne or Sydney, I think Tennis Australia probably will be forced to, I think, create some rules about it.”
While it would be extraordinary for the Australian Open to be postponed or canceled, the health and well-being of players and fans must be considered. In the meantime, tennis is playing a significant role in the country’s recovery, both with Tennis Australia organizing a charity exhibition match on January 15 in Melbourne and by donating $100 for every service ace hit during the Australian summer to the Australian Red Cross.
Aces for a very good cause
When Karen Khachanov (12) and Taylor Fritz (11) combined to hit 23 service aces during their Sunday night tie in Perth, it mean $2,300 had been raised toward the Aces for Bushfire Relief initiative, directly benefiting the Australian Red Cross bushfire disaster relief and recovery efforts.
Khachanov, who has hit 18 aces in his first two matches, is all behind the initiative. “I think that it’s the greatest idea that came into tennis, to support this cause, because, unfortunately this is happening in Australia, and I just wish to serve as many aces as possible to give more money from my side.”
Fritz thinks “it’s great what the tournament’s doing.” He said: “It’s great to see that it’s finally getting some awareness outside of Australia. Worldwide, people are pitching in and doing their part.”