Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal headline ATP Cup ahead of Australian Open

Goffin and Khachanov top Melbourne 1 draw; Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Coric top Melbourne 2

Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Rafael Nadal (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

The 2021 tennis action may have got under way thousands of miles away—in Delray Beach and Antalya—but many eyes are already firmly focused on Melbourne, where the herculean efforts of Tennis Australia and the Victoria authorities will support a full month of outstanding competition.

Of course, the decision-making for players before the mid-January convergence on Melbourne for two weeks of quarantine has been tricky, as characterised by Andy Murray’s reasons for declining his wild card at this week’s Delray Beach in Florida:

“Given the increase in Covid rates and the transatlantic flights involved, I want to minimise the risks ahead of the Australian Open.”

Fellow Briton Dan Evans also withdrew, along with Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, leaving the 22-ranked Cristian Garin and No25 John Isner to head the 28-man field. In the one-off Antalya event in Turkey, there were similar withdrawals, including Jannik Sinner and Borna Coric, though the 32-man draw boasts a good line-up of three top-20 players—Matteo Berrettini, David Goffin and Fabio Fognini—plus No23 Alex de Minaur.

However, most of the top-ranked men in the sport are keeping their powder dry until they reach Australia and complete their 14 days of quarantine. And with good reason. The ATP Cup is this year reduced to 12 teams, with all matches forced to play in Melbourne rather than the three locations it featured last year.

Qualification for this event—boasting the most points and prize-money of the three events played in the week before the Australian Open—is based on the ranking of each country’s top singles player. Australia, as host, takes the 12th spot, leaving 11 players to lead their nation into the draw.

Once No5 Roger Federer pulled out of the Australian swing, Switzerland missed the cut, though Japan gets a spot via Nishikori, whose lowly No41 rank is boosted by his protected ranking. He played only six matches last year following elbow surgery.

However, an extra place is created among the 11 courtesy of Russia’s strong, youthful presence in the top 10: Daniil Medvedev, at No4, ended 2020 with back-to-back titles at the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals, while compatriot Andrey Rublev, ranked No8, won five titles last year.

Into that space, therefore, moves No12 Denis Shapovalov, who made a big impression alongside Felix Auger-Aliassime to make the quarters last year. This time, he is joined by No14 Raonic, and so Canada could make another deep run this year.

Russia is also sure to be a formidable team, while Italy boasts two top-20 men, and France has two in the top 30, but defending champions Serbia and aspiring champions Spain, will be the ones to beat.

World No1 Novak Djokovic began a superb 2020 by winning all seven ATP Cup matches, including beating Rafael Nadal in the final, and is now heading inexorably to one of his key career targets, the Federer record of 310 weeks as No1. In this tournament, he enjoys considerable Serbian depth, too, with team-mates Dusan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic, ranked 26 and 30 respectively.

But if that is impressive, the Spanish line-up is still more so. No2 Nadal is joined by No13 Roberto Bautista Agut and No15 Pablo Carreno Busta.

The first ranked player to miss out on the ATP Cup is Goffin, who will headline the ATP250, Melbourne 1, along with world No20 Karen Khachanov, who has been eased out of the Russia Cup team by two even higher-ranked men. This tournament, which debuted last year in Adelaide, will feature eight top-40 players, including outstanding teenager Sinner.

The next man to miss out on the ATP Cup, once Federer withdrew, is Stan Wawrinka, and he will top the draw of the one-off Melbourne 2, an extra event introduced to give players the maximum opportunity to get serious match-play ahead of the Australian Open. Indeed, as each of the Melbourne 250s have a 48-man drawn, virtually the entire top 100 will get a chance to compete.

Wawrinka is joined by Grigor Dimitrov, Auger-Aliassime, Coric, Marin Cilic and Nick Kyrgios.

ATP Cup line-up (with top-12 rankings)

The draw will take place on 20 January, when the 12 teams will be divided into four groups of three for the round-robins. Four group winners advance to the semi-finals.

1. Serbia: Djokovic (No1), Lajovic, Krajinovic, Cacic

2. Spain: Nadal (No2), Bautista Agut, Granollers, Carreno Busta

3. Austria: Thiem (No3), Novak, Oswald, Weissborn

4. Russia: Medvedev (No4), Rublev (No8), Karatsev, Donskoy

5. Greece: Stefanos Tsitsipas (No6), Pervolarakis, Kalovelonis, Petros Tsitsipas

6. Germany: Zverev (No7), Struff, Krawietz, Mies

7. Argentina: Schwartzman (No9), Pella, Zeballos, Gonzalez

8. Italy: Berrettini (No10), Fognini, Bolelli, Vavassori

9. Japan: Nishikori (PR), Nishioka, McLachlan, Matsui

10. France: Monfils (No11), Paire, Mahut, Roger-Vasselin

11. Canada: Shapovalov (No12), Raonic, Polansky, Diez

12. Australia (wild card): de Minaur, Millman, Peers, Saville

Revised WTA and ATP schedule

The rest of the spring schedule has now been released, and takes account of the cancellation of Indian Wells in March. The BNP Paribas Open was the first tournament to be cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, and it continues to work with the ATP and WTA to secure another slot later this year.

That has left room to reschedule tournaments that were affected by the three-week delay in the start date of the Australian Open, most notably the first big indoor event in Rotterdam and the prestigious Dubai Duty Free.

5-13 January

Delray Beach [ATP]

Antalya [ATP]

Abu Dhabi [WTA]

10-13 January

Australian Open qualifying [ATP Doha; WTA Dubai]

16-30 January

Quarantine [Melbourne]

31 January-6 February

Melbourne 1 and 2 [ATP and WTA]

ATP Cup [Melbourne]

8-21 February

Australian Open

Melbourne 3 [WTA]

22 February

Cordoba [ATP]

Montpellier [ATP]

1 March

Doha [WTA]

Lyon [WTA]

Rotterdam [ATP]

Buenos Aires [ATP]

8 March

Dubai [WTA]

Guadalajara [WTA]

Santiago [ATP]

Marseille [ATP]

Doha [ATP]

15 March

St Petersburg [WTA]

Monterrey [WTA]

Acapulco [ATP]

Dubai [ATP]

22 March

Miami [WTA and ATP]

Remaining calendars continue as planned

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