Who plays where ahead of Australian Open? Wawrinka, Sharapova, Djokovic, Nadal, Medvedev first from blocks
Federer bypasses all tournaments; Serena Williams returns from absence in Auckland
Christmas may be almost a fortnight away, and 2020 is still three weeks’ distant, but already players and their teams have their schedules signed, sealed and delivered—and have either jetted off to their training camps, or flown to one of a clutch of exhibition events that prelude the formal WTA and ATP calendars.
However, because of the dramatic changes to the first week of the men’s tour—the arrival of the 24-team ATP Cup—there is certainly a different look to the next month.
Long-established, popular showpieces, like the self-styled Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi, have moved into these pre-Christmas days from former pre-New Year slots. That has opened the way for a significant debut in Saudi Arabia, that country’s first ever tennis tournament, the Diriyah Tennis Cup.
The eight-man knock-out event is played over three days this week, and has courted some controversy because of that country’s human rights record. But the line-up is impressive—six of the eight men are in the top 20—and the event will aim to engage fans with friendlies between Riyadh-born Michael Mmoh and Saudi national Ammar Al Haqbani.
Move into the post-Christmas weekend, and the Hawaii Open makes the most of its picture-perfect setting in a similar event to the Mubadala Championships: five women, five men competing across three days. And with names like Major champions Maria Sharapova, Bianca Andreescu and Angelique Kerber on the schedule, it will certainly be on many fans’ radar.
Calendar casualties as ATP Cup commands early 2020 schedule
But while the next two weeks will offer up plenty of big names in exhibition-style formats, there have been some notable casualties among some long-established events.
First among these is the ITF sanctioned Hopman Cup, which brought eight national male/female pairings into groups of four to compete for the knock-out final. And because it guaranteed several matches for each person, and in Australia’s famed hot conditions, it proved very popular, even without ranking points. Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic won the last two years, and other participants in 2019 included Serena Williams, Kerber, Alexander Zverev, Ashleigh Barty, and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The ATP250 in Pune India has been shunted into a post-Australian Open slot, where it will have to fight its corner while the European hard indoor and Latin American golden swing get started.
The WTA’s Sydney Premier has given way to the ATP—Sydney will host both the round-robin stages and the knock-out phase of the tournament across 10 days. Instead, there will be a new tournament in the week before the Australian Open in Adelaide.
The only WTA Premier event remaining in the first week of the calendar, then, is Brisbane—where the women’s draw will be competing for space with the round-robin week of the ATP Cup.
How this all shakes down in practice, only the players can tell. What is clear is that most of the big men’s names will be taking part in the ATP’s new event—with only a couple of notable exceptions among those whose ranking would have permitted their participation: Federer and Stan Wawrinka.
Doha gives helping hand during ATP Cup
While Pune has been sidelined, Doha remains a strong ATP option for those unable to take advantage of the points and prize-money of the ATP Cup. Doha is a two-time winner of the ATP 250 tournament award, and it has drawn a strong field from among third-ranked players in particularly strong tennis nations.
Andrey Rublev’s outstanding late 2019 season still finds him ranked behind Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov. Frances Tiafoe trails John Isner and Taylor Fritz. Milos Raonic has been overtaken by Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, ranked 29, has three Frenchman above him. Laslo Djere and Filip Krajinovic, both in the top 40, do not make the cut in the Novak Djokovic led Serbia.
The draw is headed by Wawrinka, and perhaps the sponsors harboured hopes that Federer would also commit—he has won the Doha title three times—but the Swiss pulled out of the ATP Cup to prioritise time with the family after a hectic November on the road in South American, and he has another exhibition in China at the end of December.
Some big names to look out for in first weeks
· Kei Nishikori has not played since the US Open and had elbow surgery in late October. He returns, with additional new coach Max Mirnyi, at a ranking of 13 from No5 as recently as August, and is warming up on December’s invitational circuit.
· Serena Williams has also not played since reaching three back-to-back finals at Wimbledon, the Rogers Cup, and the US Open. She will make only her second appearance at the Auckland Classic, as second seed.
· Fans will make the most of Caroline Wozniacki, who has not played since the first days of October when she reached the semis in Beijing. Her Australian swing will mark her retirement from the sport.
· Maria Sharapova is taking to the invitational circuit as she works back to form: She has not played since the US Open, and has won just one match since June.
· Andy Murray will make an emotional return to Australia, where it looked as though his career was over 11 months ago. Since then, hip surgery has transformed him, and after a successful foray into doubles, he got some important singles wins under his belt in China and then won Antwerp. However, he has delayed his training block in Miami as he nurses the groin injury he picked up during the Davis Cup, so although scheduled to play the ATP Cup, will he be fit in time?
· Novak Djokovic is breaking with tradition in adding an extra week to his Australian Open preparation in Adelaide, and that after the ATP Cup. He has played the week before the Australian Open, where he is seven-time champion, only once before, in Sydney in 2009.
Exhibitions and invitationals
12-14 December: Diriyah Tennis Cup, Saudi Arabia
Players: Wawrinka, Medvedev, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini, Gael Monfils, John Isner, Jan-Lennard Struff, Lucas Pouille
19-21 December: Mubadala World Tennis Championships, UAE
Players: Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Monfils, Hyeon Chung
NB Sharapova also scheduled for exhibition match
26-28 December: Hawaii Open
Players: Andreescu, Danielle Collins, Misaki Doi, Sharapova, Kerber
Nishikori, Fritz, Sam Querrey, Raonic, Jordan Thompson
27-29 December: Hangzhou, China
Players: Federer, Zverev, Bryan brothers
14-16 January: Kooyong Classic, Melbourne
Players: Marin Cilic, Nick Kyrgios, Ajla Tomljanovic, Wozniacki, Sharapova, Grigor Dimitrov, Raonic, Coco Vandeweghe, Richard Gasquet, Borna Coric
Main tour tournaments
3-12 January: ATP Cup, Brisbane/Perth/Sydney [knockout stages in Sydney 9-12]
Players: 24 teams playing in six groups, featuring at least the top two ranked singles men from each nation [NB excluding Federer and Wawrinka]
4 January: Shenzhen Open WTA International
Players: Aryna Sabalenka, Bencic, Garbine Muguruza, Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens, Qiang Wang
6 January: Auckland Classic WTA International
Players: Andreescu, Serena Williams, Wozniacki, Petra Martic, Amanda Anisimova, Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff, Julia Goerges, Carla Suarez Navarro
6 January: Brisbane International WTA Premier
Players: Osaka, Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Barty, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens, Johanna Konta, Venus Williams, Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens
6 January: Qatar Open (Doha) ATP 250
Players: Wawrinka, Rublev, Tsonga, Raonic, Goffin, Djere, Krajinovic, Adrian Mannarino, Tiafoe
12 January: Adelaide International WTA Premier/ATP 250
WTA Players: Halep, Barty, Venus Williams, Kvitova, Bertens, Kerber, Konta, Martic
ATP Players: Djokovic, Alex de Minaur, Auger-Aliassime, Rublev, Pouille, Pablo Carreno Busta, Fritz, Cristian Garin
13 January: Hobart International WTA International
Players: Mertens, Rybakina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Caroline Garcia
13 January: Auckland Classic ATP 250
Players: Medvedev, Shapovalov, Fabio Fognini, Khachanov, Hubert Hurkacz, Benoit Paire, Isner, Radu Albot
Australian Open begins 20 January