Instead of a handful of separate tournaments across Australia and New Zealand, which has been the familiar preparation for the first Major of the year, the ATP will launch its new 24-nation team event, the ATP Cup, to be played across 10 days in the homes of those former tournaments: Brisbane, Sydney and host of the non-tour Hopman Cup, Perth.
The event comes hot on the heels—five or so weeks later—of the new-format Davis Cup, which will be played in a near identical format, this time with 18 teams in six round-robin groups. The group winners in both cases head to quarters, semis and a final.
The similarity is hard to avoid. But when it comes to the ATP Cup, there are huge incentives for the players to join up, and all the more so for the lack of other preparatory tournaments to fine-tune the Australian Open preparation. With a purse of $15 million and a maximum of 750 points in singles at stake, this is bound to attract the big names.
In September, the first 18 countries qualified, based on the ATP ranking of its No1 singles player. Host country Australia received a wild card, and the final six teams qualified in November, again based on ATP rankings.
Switzerland, in the hands of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, subsequently withdrew, and its place was taken by Bulgaria. But although the tournament will be without the two Swiss, there will not be another player in the top 20 missing, and in many cases, one nation boasts double riches.
Spain is led by Rafael Nadal, who will go into the competition as world No1 with No10 Roberto Bautista Agut, while Italy boasts two top-10 players in Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini.
Russia is also blessed—No4 Daniil Medvedev has support from Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rubev—while France has Gael Monfils, Lucas Pouille, Benoit Paire and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all in the top 30.
Meanwhile, some nations have one leading light, but have to dig deep into the rankings to find partners: Greece springs to mind, a tough prospect for No6 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The nations are now divided into their six groups, and there are already some intriguing contests on offer, and with the schedule released alongside the draw, fans can plan their trips to see their favourite player or nation. For example, Nadal’s Spain takes on Nishikori’s Japan on 8 January, and Medvedev’s Russia will meet Fabio Fognini’s Italy on 3 January.
And while there was high anticipation about a meeting between Federer and an Andy Murray returning to a full singles schedule a year after major hip surgery, it is still a mouth-watering prospect to have Murray facing Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov on 3 January.
Murray may then face David Goffin in the second round-robin phase, bringing back memories of their Davis Cup showdown in 2015. Murray has still to lose to the Belgian, but Goffin is sure to test the fitness of the rebuilt Murray.
The tournament will be played over six days in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, with the eight successful teams advancing to the final eight four-day knockout stage in Sydney.
· 24 teams are divided into six groups of four for round-robin play. The six group winners, plus two best second-placed finishers across the groups will contest the knock-out quarter-finals.
· Each tie will comprise two singles and one doubles match. Every country will be guaranteed to play three ties in the group stages.
· Singles will be best-of-three tie-break sets. Doubles will have no-ad scoring and a match tie-break in lieu of a third set.
· A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two with singles ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify.
· A country may have up to five players, but if a team has five players, at least three must have a singles ranking. If fewer than five players, a team must have at least two players with a singles ranking.
· Rankings are based on the ATP’s 52-week system. A Protected Ranking can be used to enter provided the player’s PR is valid through the entry deadline.
· An undefeated player who wins all possible singles matches could earn 750 rankings points. An undefeated player who wins all possible doubles matches can earn 250 points. The amount of points depends on the ranking of the opponent and the round of the result.
· The total player prize money is $15 million. There are three different components, including a participation fee, prize money for individual match wins, and prize money for tie victories.
· Coaching will be permitted by the team captain, a player’s individual coach or fellow player team members, and is not limited to changeovers and set breaks [but it shall not interfere with the speed of play].
Group A: Serbia [Djokovic], France [Monfils], South Africa [Anderson], Chile [Garin]
Group F: Germany [Zverev], Greece [Tsitsipas], Canada [Shapovalov], (wild card) Australia [de Minaur]
Group B: Spain [Nadal], Japan [Nishikori], Georgia [Basilashvili], Uruguay [Cuevas]
Group D: Russia [Medvedev], Italy [Berrettini], USA [Isner], Norway [Ruud]
Sydney (where knock-out rounds will also be held)
Group C: Belgium [Goffin], GB [Murray], Bulgaria [Dimitrov], Moldova [Albot]
Group E: Austria [Thiem], Croatia [Coric], Argentina [Schwartzman], Poland [Hurkacz]
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