ATP Cup 2020: Djokovic’s Serbia join Australia in quarters; Nadal and Bautista-Agut unbeaten
Dimitrov’s Bulgaria, plus Russian duo, also top their groups
For many of the teams who completed the second phase of round-robin competition across Australia on Sunday, there was good news, and for some, very good news. For a few, though, the writing was already on the wall.
As anticipated, Brisbane has proved to be a hotbed of quality, boasting as it does two of the toughest groups. And perhaps the hottest group—and F brings Germany, Canada, Australia and Greece to one party—produced plenty of fireworks in the weekend schedule.
Australia first to confirm quarter-finals
Each of the four nations is topped by a 22-and-under player ranked 18 above, an entire quartet tipped to make still bigger inroads through 2020.
But home advantage, plus considerable depth in a squad that allowed the injured Nick Kyrgios to be subbed by the 48-ranked John Millman, lifted Australia to a second 3-0 victory over two of the favourite nations. On Day 1, the Aussies went 3-0 against Alexander Zverev’s Germany, and on Sunday, they did the same against the impressive young Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who themselves had scored 3-0 in the first round.
And that made Australia the first nation to qualify for the quarter-finals. Next up they face Stefanos Tsitsipas’s Greece, which languishes near the bottom of the ranks after losing both its ties.
Dimitrov’s Bulgaria continues to impress; Russia too
Along with Australia, Bulgaria, ably led on court and as coach by Grigor Dimitrov, has notched up two tie wins, and with just Belgium left to play, are in a strong position to qualify—though fellow Group C opponents GB and Belgium have a win apiece, so either could also grab qualification with a final-day win. Indeed Dimitrov vs No11 David Goffin, could become the key showdown.
Also notching up two tie wins are Russians Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov, who again won both their singles matches against the USA in Group D—making their match tally 5-1 after two rounds.
Exit door beckons for Greece and USA
After two rounds, the picture looks bleak for Greece. The weakness of the tournament format is that each team is built around one high-ranked singles player, in this case world No6 Tsitsipas, but without a strong second singles player or established doubles team, winning a tie—let alone two ties—is a huge undertaking.
Perhaps more surprising is that the USA, with eight players in the top 100, and both its picks, John Isner and Taylor Fritz, ranked in the top 30, has yet to win a tie. Maybe less surprising is that Moldova—and their top ranked man, Radu Albot, is currently No46—have played two and lost two. Albot is the only Moldovan, in singles or doubles, ranked inside 800.
Tuesday would bring a resolution for all of them, but before that, the other 12 nations entered phase two of the round robins.
Serbia battles past France to confirm QF place
The most significant tie on Monday was played in Brisbane between France and Serbia, for the winner could seal the quarter-finals depending on the result between fellow A teams, South Africa and Chile.
By the time the Kevin Anderson-led squad had got the better of Chile—and one of the stand-out features of the tournament has been the successful return of the popular former No5 to competition for the first time since Wimbledon and knee surgery—only Serbia could guarantee the quarters.
And it would go to the wire, after Benoit Paire edged out Dusan Lajovic in three sets and Novak Djokovic levelled with an entertaining win over Gael Monfils, 6-3, 6-2. The world No2 would then do double-duty alongside friend and compatriot Viktor Troicki, as they took on one of the best doubles combos in the tournament: Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin have won 48 doubles titles between them, and some won together.
Yet Serbia gelled quickly, smothered the net, won the first set, 6-3. Djokovic took a medical time-out for massage to his arm, and France edged a second-set tie-break in a high-octane environment. It came down, then, to a match-tie-break, and after France got a 3-1 lead, Serbia became irrepressible: The reeled off the next nine points for an explosive win—and a place in the quarters.
Nadal’s Spain aim to add ATP Cup to Davis Cup victory
Spain have looked like potential champions in Australia since the draw was made, and reinforced their ‘favourite’ status after another win against the lower-ranked Uruguay.
Roberto Bautista Agut got Spain off to a flier in Perth at the weekend with a 6-0, 6-0 win against Georgia, and the world No9 almost repeated the feat against Franco Roncadelli, 6-1, 6-2, in under an hour. For here is another example of team imbalance courtesy of the tournament’s format: All of Spain’s nominees are ranked under 55, and the lowest, Feliciano Lopez, also happens to be a Major doubles champion into the bargain.
Little wonder that, with two men inside the top 10, Spain thumped Georgia—Nikoloz Basilashvili, ranked 26, is their only man inside the top 600—and Uruguay—Pablo Cuevas, ranked 45, is seconded by world No524. In the last tie, Spain will play a Japan without an injured Kei Nishikori, and thus with two singles players outside the top 70.
If ever there was a foregone conclusion, then, it was that Spain would reach the knock-out stages, and that view was only strengthened by Nadal’s performance over Cuevas, 6-2, 6-1. The world No1 notched up 26 winners for just eight errors, won 10 points at the net, and seized his win in just 73 minutes.
Even so, despite a 3-0 victory, Spain could not officially confirm the quarter-finals from Group B, any more than could Croatia from Group E, despite winning their two ties so far. Marin Cilic and Borna Coric upset Austria in their first tie, 3-0, and then beat Poland, 2-1. However, Austria kept their hopes alive in this group by beating Argentina, 2-1.
Group F: Australia qualified; Canada second
Australia beat Canada, 3-0
Germany beat Greece, 2-1
Group A: Serbia qualified
South Africa beat Chile, 3-0
Serbia beat France, 2-1
Group D: Russia top of group standings
Italy beat Norway, 2-1
Russia beat USA, 2-1
Group B: Spain top of group standings; Japan second
Japan beat Georgia, 2-1
Spain beat Uruguay, 3-0
Group C: Bulgaria top of group standings
Bulgaria beat Moldova, 2-1
Great Britain beat Belgium, 2-1
Group E: Croatia top of group standings
Austria beat Argentina, 3-0
Croatia beat Poland, 2-1