ATP Cup 2020: Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas headline new event
Players to raise money for bushfire disaster relief - but against devastating Australian backdrop.
It is big, it is ambitious, and it offers mouth-watering rewards, in prizes and points, to the most successful men in tennis.
It is the ATP Cup, launched last year as the opening brouhaha to the Australian Open, and boasts 24 teams in three cities across the breadth of the continent, with singles and doubles matches played through 10 days.
And it is not just the tournament, with its big, team-based format and geographical spread, that breaks fresh ground—and incidentally displaces the likes of the Hopman Cup and the ATP event in Pune India.
There will be innovative new elements—surely on trial for more extensive use on the tennis stage—such as ‘team zones’ to bring players closer to the fans, strategy rooms and the technology to analyse statistics during play, video review for contentious officiating decisions, and on-court coaching.
Under the microscope
This all-guns-blazing opening tournament of the ATP calendar, then, will be under close scrutiny from players and fans, but not just for its ground-breaking style and scope.
The ATP Cup is the first tour event to be played after the similarly-revamped Davis Cup, which also featured multiple teams in round-robin and knock-out phases. Just five weeks after that gruelling 18-team, seven-day tournament, many of the same protagonists are back, with the best of them possibly facing the prospect of half a dozen matches if their nation reaches the final stages.
There has also been some disquiet at the selection process for the tournament, especially with potentially significant ranking points up for grabs. A player who wins all possible singles matches can earn 750 points, with the ranking of opponents having a direct impact on the tally: The higher the rank of the beaten player, the more points each winner will earn.
However, not every player has the opportunity to take part, because selection is based on current ranking, with between three and five singles and doubles players in each squad. And the rules dictate:
“The team criteria shall be the two highest ranked singles players; then the highest ATP ranking (singles or doubles) of the next three players.”
Little wonder that the only alternative tournament during the coming week, in Doha, has drawn nine top-50 players, including No23 Andrey Rublev, No30 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No32 Milos Raonic, all of whom have enough higher-ranked compatriots to fill their country’s ATP Cup slots.
For the very top players, however, there is no such problem, and almost all have opted in to this exciting venture. Nowhere else, indeed, can they earn big points while playing in the special atmosphere of a team event.
A flaming backdrop
But make no mistake: Perhaps the biggest challenge among the many highlighted here will be an unforeseen one—the devastating fires that have been fanned by scorching temperatures and a desperate need for rain across Australia.
New South Wales, with Sydney at its coastal heart, and Victoria, where the Australian Open heads in a fortnight to Melbourne, are facing catastrophic conditions. And even if the host cities are preserved from flames, their air quality could impact heavily upon players, officials and fans. Indeed, Canberra this week recorded the worst air quality in the world.
Players will raise money via their tennis—$100 per ace as a starting point—during the coming 10 days, but their sport will be played out against a truly devastating backdrop.
Which nations are in which groups?
[Round-robin groups play Friday 3 to Wednesday 8 January]
Group A, Serbia, France, South Africa, Chile
Group F, Germany, Greece, Canada, Australia
Group B, Spain, Japan, Georgia, Uruguay
Group D, Russia, Italy, USA, Norway
Group C, Belgium, GB, Bulgaria, Moldova
Group E, Austria, Croatia, Argentina, Poland
The knock-out stages—quarters, semis, and final—comprising the six group winners plus two runners-up, will all be played in Sydney from 9 November.
Stand-out teams, notable absentees
The Perth line-up boasts two particularly strong nations. Spain has No1 Rafael Nadal along with No9 Bautista Agut, while Russia has No5 Daniil Medvedev with No17 Karen Khachanov. Italy, with No12 Fabio Fognini, is not to be dismissed either, but the withdrawal of No8 Matteo Berrettini has weakened the side
Other teams that have two top-quality singles players include Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, in the same group as Gael Monfils’ France in Brisbane, while the other group is also formidable. Alexander Zverev headlines, Stefanos Tsitsipas features for Greece, and Davis Cup runners-up Canada, spearheaded by Denis Shapovalow and Felix Auger-Alisassime, take on home favourites Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgrios.
In Sydney, things are wide open, though the combined forces of Marin Cilic and Borna Coric for Croatia stand out.
Missing from the tournament, though, are some significant names:
· Switzerland, without Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, gave up its place to Bulgaria in the draw.
· Andy Murray announced his withdrawal to continue rehab on a pelvic injury, leaving James Ward to join Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie as the singles players, plus doubles specialists Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury.
· Kei Nishikori, ranked 13, has also withdrawn, still recovering from elbow surgery.
· World No8, the Italian Matteo Berrettini, and Frenchman Lucas Pouille, world No22, are also out.
The nuts and bolts
· The 24 teams are divided into six groups of four for round-robin play.
· The six winners of each group plus the two best second-placed nations across all the groups will advance to the eight-country knockout stage.
· Each tie will comprise two singles and one doubles match.
· Singles will be best-of-three tie-break sets, doubles will use No-Ad scoring and a match tie-break in lieu of a third set.
· There is a day session (10am local time) and evening session (5.30pm local time) each day per venue. The final is played at 6.30pm on Sunday 12 January.
· The first singles matches are between the No2 players in each tie, followed by the No1 players, with the doubles to follow. All doubles matches will be played regardless of whether the tie is decided after the two singles matches.
What’s at stake?
· An undefeated player who wins all possible singles matches can earn 750 points, while an undefeated doubles player can earn 250 points. The amount of points awarded for singles matches depends on the ranking of the opponent and the round in which the match is played.
· The purse for the ATP Cup is $15 million, and comprises three different components: participation fee, prize money for match-wins, and prize money for tie victories. Participation can earn from between $250K for a top-ranked singles player and $20K for a player ranked 200-300. Singles match wins begin at $27,600 for group stages, up to $290K for a final match-win.
For more detail on how points and prize money are distributed, see the ATP Cup site.