Peers, Seville Complete Australia’s Comeback Upset Of Italy At ATP Cup

John Peers and Luke Saville (photo: ATP Tour video)

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, January 2, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

On paper, Team Italy with two Top-10 players – World No. 7 Matteo Berrettini and World No. 10 Jannik Sinner – came into the third edition of the ATP Cup as the team to beat in Sydney this week.

However, host nation Australia pulled off a huge upset of the pre-tournament favorites Sunday evening, coming from behind to win 2-1 in front of an enthusiastic Ken Rosewall Arena crowd, many waving Australian flags.

Down 0-1, Alex de Minaur kept his team’s hopes alive with the fifth Top-10 win of his career as he upset Italy’s Berrettini 6-3, 7-6 (4). Then, John Peers and Luke Seville completed the turnaround in doubles, defeating Berrettini and Simone Bolelli, 6-3, 7-5, in which they combined to hit 27 winners against just five unforced errors and won all 11 of their service games.

Peers and Saville saved a set point at 4-5 in the second set and won the final nine points of the 84-minute decider to clinch the tie triumph for Australia.

The victory gave the Aussies a tremendous lift-off in Group B play, which also featured defending champion Russia rallying to beat France 2-1 during the afternoon session. Also, in Group C, the United States shut out Canada 3-0 and Great Britain defeated Germany 2-1.

“This court brings out the best in me,” said an emotional de Minaur, ranked 34th, during his on-court interview after his victory. Looking back to last year, he added, “It’s not about how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get knocked down and get back up.”

Indeed, the 22-year-old de Minaur recovered after squandering a 5-3 lead in the second set. His victory over Berrettini leveled their career head-to-head at 1-1.

“My whole career I have had a couple of setbacks, but look, I am back,” said de Minaur, who won a pair of ATP Tour singles titles last season at Antalya on a hard court and Eastbourne on grass. “I worked really hard to be here, I am in the best shape of my life and I am ready to have a big year.”

Earlier, the 20-year-old Sinner, who won four tour-level titles and broke into the ATP Top 10 in 2021, gave Italy an early 1-0 lead with his 6-1, 6-3 win over Max Purcell, who was a substitute for James Duckworth, in 64 minutes.

“It was a great match from my side,” Sinner said on-court after his victory. “I am very happy to have the first point for Team Italy and hopefully Matteo can finish it today. I felt very, very solid. I knew I had to play solid from the baseline because when he comes to the net, it is very, very tough to pass him, so I tried to play deep. For the first match of the year, it could not have gone any better.”

Evans lifts Great Britain over Germany

World No. 25 Dan Evans won twice, including the deciding doubles with Jamie Murray, which lifted Great Britain to a 2-1 victory over Germany in Group C at Qudos Bank Arena.

Evans began the tie with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff in the No. 2 singles rubber, his third career win against the German. Then, after World No. 3 Alexander Zverev leveled the tie with an 87-minute 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over World No. 12 Cameron Norrie, Evans returned to the court with Murray. The British duo pounded out a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Zverev and Kevin Krawietz in 78 minutes.

“It’s a good way to start 2022,” said the 31-year-old Evans, who went 27-24 last year in all competitions. “I’ve been practicing well, but I didn’t expect to play the match this well.”

From 1-all in the opening set against Struff, Evans won nine straight games to go ahead a set and a double-break lead and never looked back.

“The team win is most important,” Evans said during his team’s post-match press conference. “We all did our job today.”

Meanwhile, Zverev, won for the 13th time in his last 15 singles matches. He beat World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2-ranked Daniil Medvedev in his last two matches of the 2021 season to win the Nitto AP Finals title.

After beating Norrie, Zverev said during an on-court interview: “The first match of the year is never going to be the best match of your life. But I’m pretty happy as I did my job. We’re here to try and win.”

Later, during his team’s post-match press conference, Zverev said: “At the end of the day we lost. The singles I think was a typical first match of the year singles type of match. I think the first set, yeah, I could have played better, but in the second set I started to play my tennis and a lot better. Unfortunately, we lost the doubles, so it all kind of doesn’t matter.”

Fritz clinches U.S. win against Canada

After teammate John Isner set the table with an easy 6-1, 6-3 win over Canadian substitute Brayden Schnur, who replaced Denis Shapovalov, World No. 23 Taylor Fritz rallied to clinch the United States victory over Canada with come-from-behind win over World No. 11 Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Isner and Fritz teamed to win the dead doubles rubber for the Americans against Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov for the final 3-0 margin.

In the No. 1 singles rubber, Fritz recovered to beat Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4 after squandering four set points in the opening-set tie-break. “We’re feeling really good,” Fritz said during his on-court interview. “When we played in 2020, we didn’t win a match, so first win for Team USA at the ATP Cup. It feels good.”

Looking back, Fritz, who hit 12 aces and saved the only break point he faced, admitted he deserved to win the opening set against Aliassime. “I basically did everything but win it,” he said during his team’s press conference. “I knew that it was obviously really important for the team and also really [important] for me and I felt like I played pretty well in the first set, but I felt like I could play even better.

“So, I just kind of focused on that and told myself to just kind of do the same thing I just did and win the next two sets.”

Safiullin saves the day for Russia after Medvedev loses in singles

Defending champion Russia, already decimated by the loss of three players – Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karatsev and Evgeny Donskoy – to COVID-19, turned to unheralded backup Roman Safiullin to help guide them to victory against France in Group B play.

After beating Arthur Rinderknech in the opening singles rubber, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, the 167th-ranked Safiullin from Podoroska, Russia, teamed with World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev to defeat France’s Fabrice Martin and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 6-4, 6-4, in the deciding doubles rubber to pull out a 2-1 victory for the Russians.

“It feels great to win the first match, to get the point for the team,” the 24-year-old Safiullin said. “The second set was really tight and I tried to make as many balls as I could and put pressure on him.

“Before the match, Daniil said to go out and play with no pressure, just to play my best and fight for every point.”

In the No. 1 singles rubber, World No. 35 Ugo Hubert of France stunned Medvedev, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (2), after the Russian led by a set a 3-0 in the second set. Medvedev began cramping by the end of the second set of the two-hour and 55-minute match.

“It was a tough match, I am very happy,” Humbert said during his on-court interview. He hit 44 winners to Medvedev’s 28. “I had some opportunities in the first set and I just tried to stay relaxed and focused on what I had to do. It was a great match.”

How did Medvedev, who hit an uncharacteristic 44 unforced errors and committed seven double faults, see it from his point of view?

“My match was unreal,” Medvedev said during his team’s press conference afterward. “I’m disappointed that I lost, but it was another real match where I was cramping since end of the second set – but yet managed, you know, to almost win it.

“And the doubles, because, yeah, maybe we are definitely not the best doubles players in the world, but the level we played today and the way actually Team Russia managed to win gave me so much emotions that I cannot even explain them, because definitely for the tournament, [it] is defnitely better to win 2-0, 6-0, 6-0 two times, easy, but this will not give you these emotions. …

“I don’t know how my body’s going to feel tomorrow, but I’m happy that today I managed to still help the team to win even if it was not the singles.”

Looking back at Saturday

Looking ahead to Monday

By the numbers

Australia’s Luke Seville celebrated his 28th birthday Sunday on court playing doubles with John Peers in his country’s 2-1 tie victory against Italy. Seville ended 2021 at a career-high No. 23 in doubles and married fellow former World No. 1 junior Daria Gavrilova last month in Melbourne.

“Quotable …”

“When I hard I had 25 minutes to get ready for doubles, I was not really happy. It’s definitely not enough when you play a three-hour match and you’re cramping. I was, like, ‘Well, again, I’m not playing for myself here. I’m playing for Russia, for my country.’ If I have to die on the court, I will try to do it and try to win.”

Daniil Medvedev of Russia, describing the feeling of having to focus on playing doubles after losing a nearly-three-hour singles match.

“I think a big part of tennis is being able to strategize and kind of understand what’s going on in the match. And I’ve always been a huge advocate for – obviously in teams events it’s different – no on-court coaching, a conversation we’ve had over the past couple [of] years a lot because I think tennis is an individual sport and I think a huge part of it is kind of doing these things and figuring it out by yourself.”

Taylor Fritz of the United States, on the concept of on-court coaching and of the ATP Cup team zone being used throughout this year’s tournament.