ATP Cup 2020: GB head to quarters with powerhouse teams Australia, Russia, Serbia

Flawless Spain headline second QF quartet; Argentina beat Croatia to confirm Canada

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Nine nations were still in contention for the four remaining places in the ATP Cup quarter-finals on the final day of round-robin action across Australia.

Two of those places would be taken by the outright winners of Groups B and E, while the other two could only become clear after the last matches were completed. Those two had to be the ‘best’ second-placed nations, those with the best winning percentage through their three rounds.

Great Britain top Group C

But first things first. A Great Britain team without the injured Andy Murray was far from favoured to survive the gruelling week of team action against Belgium, Bulgaria and Moldova—though the scenario was certainly a better one than when Switzerland was drawn here. Without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, that spot was taken by a Moldovan team that boasted just one man ranked inside 800 in either singles or doubles. Sure enough, they won just a one match out of nine, in doubles.

In the end, there was a three-way split between GB—and Dan Evans in particular rose to the occasion with huge aplomb and some stunning tennis—Belgium with David Goffin, and Bulgaria with Grigor Dimitrov.

And in the end, the solitary effort of Dimitrov, who captained his team and played singles and doubles in each tie, was too much. Bulgaria was edged out in a thrilling contest with Belgium, while GB’s superior doubles team proved to be a key factor. The Britons topped Belgium, despite identical match-wins, 6-3, with a better winning percentage. Belgium, though, was still in with a chance as a best runner-up.

Whether the GB squad has a hope against home favourites Australia in Sydney on Thursday seems doubtful—the depth and quality of Australia’s singles and doubles line-up is formidable, and the passion on display against the backdrop of the national bush-fire disaster, is intense. But already the points won have been enough to propel Evans to a new career high of around 37, and should he win his singles tie in the quarters, he could have a shout at a seeding in a Major for the first time come the Australian Open.

Russian revolution: Medvedev and Khachanov unbeaten

The young duo of No5 Daniil Medvedev and No17 Karen Khachanov, both with Masters titles to their names, both age 23, both 6ft6in tall, and both with top-eight ranking experience, did not disappoint. They won all six singles matches, and combined to win in doubles too, though dropped Russia’s only point in their doubles contest against the USA.

US Open finalist Medvedev sealed the deal with a 6-2, 7-6(6) win over No53 Casper Ruud of Norway, who himself will break inside the top 50 for the first time after beating two top-20 players, Fabio Fognini and John Isner.

The Russians will be formidable opponents come the quarters, especially as their next opponent, the winner of Group E, would not be determined until late into Wednesday evening.

Argentina claim QF place, but Croatia edge second runner-up spot

It was as close as could be in Group E in Sydney: essentially, Croatia, Austria and Argentina were all still in contention for the top spot. A Croatia headed by Borna Coric and Marin Cilic, were 2-0 thus far, with Austria and Argentina locked at 1-1. But if Poland beat Austria, Thiem’s squad was out—and sure enough, the world No4 could not hold off No47 Hubert Hurkacz. Poland took the tie, 2-1, and Hurkacz became one of the stand-out performers of the week. His country may have failed to qualify, but his wins over Thiem, Coric, and Diego Schwartzman may well propel him into the Australian Open seedings.

It came down, then, to a winner-takes-all night session: Croatia and Argentina competed for the win and the quarter-finals. And it was the latter, in shape of Schwartzman and Guido Pella, who came through in some style, both in straight sets, to take their country to that showdown against Russia.

The battle for best second-placed teams

Just as intense and unpredictable was the race to seal the last two quarter-final places that went to the best group runners-up.

After Day 5, those spots were held by Belgium and Canada. But on the final day of round-robin competition, another six teams were still able to grab those spots: Spain, Japan, Croatia, Austria, South Africa, and France.

With Spain’s whitewash of Japan, the fate of both was decided: Spain through, Japan out. Austria’s loss eliminated their chance, but although Croatia lost their tie to Argentina, there was still a small window for Coric and Cilic if other results went their way. Having finished second in their group, they needed Austria and Japan to lose. And that indeed happened. Now, they needed to get one last point on the scoreboard from doubles to oust Canada as a runner-up qualifier.

But what of France and South Africa, who played one another in the hope of qualifying? Each needed to win 3-0, and that tension produced a humdinger. For even with an injured Gael Monfils replaced by captain Gilles Simon, such is the depth of French tennis that it would take a momentous effort from Kevin Anderson, playing for the first time since Wimbledon and knee surgery, to play his part.

With his compatriot Lloyd Harris going down to Simon, Anderson was forced to pull off one of the comebacks of the week, saving one match point and twice breaking Paire to earn a second tie-break, and the win, 2-6, 7-6(1), 7-6(5).

And his win ended French hopes for the quarter-finals, but also confirmed Belgium’s place as successful runner-up. So it came down, in the early hours, to Croatia’s doubles team to determine whether they would take the last place—or concede it to Canada.

Perhaps appropriately for dying stages of the round-robin ties, it be edge-of-seat stuff as first Croatia won a set, then Argentina. It was decided by a match tie-break, first to 10, and the Argentines produced some scintillating play to take the win, 10-2—a clean sweep for Argentina, elimination for Croatia.

No doubt the Canadian team will buy the first round of drinks when they get to Sydney.

Quarter-final line-up, Sydney

9 January

Day: GB (winner Group C) vs Australia (winner Group F)

Night: Argentina (winner Group E) vs Russia (winner Group D)

10 January

Day: Serbia (winner Group A) vs Canada (second runner-up)

Night: Spain (winner Group B) vs Belgium (first runner-up)

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