Davis Cup 2021: World’s top two Djokovic and Medvedev headline 18-team jamboree in three cities
Madrid, which hosted the new-format, 18-team event in 2019, joined by Turin and Innsbruck for second edition
Like many other tournaments during 2020, the Davis Cup was cancelled as the coronavirus pandemic did its worst.
It came just a year after the revamped, new-format version of the Davis Cup launched in its first home, Madrid, and brought together 18 teams to battle it out through more than a week. A big ask indeed at the end of a long season, and particularly for the top players who qualified for the NextGen Finals and ATP Finals in November.
And like those two tour finales, the teams who qualify for the Davis Cup now have to survive round-robin groups, each comprising three nations, then advance to three knock-out stages if they are to reach the final.
For some players, it proves too much: injuries have mounted up, fatigue has set in, and there is barely time to draw breath before one of the opening warm-up events for 2022, the Mubadala Championships in Abu Dhabi, gets under way in just three weeks’ time. Interesting timing, indeed, for Abu Dhabi is likely to be the home of the Davis Cup from next year.
But while there are names in the men’s rankings who are notable by their absence for the next 10 days—Spain is without Rafael Nadal, Austria will miss Dominic Thiem, Germany will have to cope without last week’s ATP Finals champion and world No3, Alexander Zverev—there is certainly enough star power to get the fans engaged.
Take a bow, world No1 Novak Djokovic and No2 Daniil Medvedev, who will spearhead two of the strongest teams in the competition, Serbia and Russia. They are two of just three Major champions among the 18 teams—Marin Cilic is the third—and led their respective nations to victory in the not-dissimilar ATP Cup in the last two years.
Djokovic and Medvedev, however, are not alone in being title winners this year, and particularly exciting for the fans is that there are several new young champions among their number: Jannik Sinner, for example. However, unfortunately, one of the most charismatic had to withdraw following a positive Covid test: Carlos Alcaraz.
Not that the youngsters have had a monopoly on making breakthroughs in 2021: Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans both won their first titles this year, both reaching career highs, as did Russian Aslan Karatsev.
Altogether, there are seven top-20 players, and 22 in the top 50, vying for national glory. In doubles, too, eight of the top 10 will feature—and as the doubles rubber can become decisive in ties, they can make or break the result.
How does it work, and where will they play?
The 18 teams comprise 12 qualifiers, the previous year’s four semi-finalists and two wild cards—on this occasion, Serbia and France.
The teams are drawn into six groups of three apiece, and the winner of each group plus the two best runners-up will make it through to the quarter-finals.
Each tie features two singles and one doubles match, all played on one day, and all the matches will be best of three tie-break sets.
What are the notable national show-downs?
In the last playing of the tournament, it was based entirely in Madrid, but this year, three cities will host two groups each up to and including the quarter-finals: Madrid, Turin, and Innsbruck, though the last will have to be played behind closed doors after Austria went into lockdown.
Defending champions Spain have been drawn in the same group as arguably the strongest squad in the tournament, featuring not just Medvedev but world No5 Andrey Rublev, Karatsev, and Karen Khachanov, a former Masters champion and top-10 player. With no Nadal or Roberto Bautista Agut for Spain, focus had turned on the dazzling teenager Alcaraz, but a positive Covid test dashed his hopes—and fans await the fate of his compatriots. In the meantime, a strong sub has been summoned, Pedro Martinez, ranked 60.
Last year’s runners-up, Canada, compete in Group B, and might have been regarded as favourites to make the knock-out stage over Kazakhstan and Sweden—but Canada is missing its biggest names; Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, thus making this anything but predictable. Sure enough, the Ymer brothers took Sweden to an early win over Canada.
In Group E, the USA will face another strong squad in the shape of Italy after the two teams also met in Madrid in 2019. Since then, there has been a flowering of young talent in Italy, so even without Matteo Berrettini in the team, youthful Sinner and Musetti with experienced Fabio Fognini and Lorenzo Sonego, playing at home, will take some beating. The USA, though, has four singles men in the top 40, plus some outstanding doubles expertise: that may prove to be key.
For the strong group of GB players, it will be familiar foes France in Group C, and the doubles again could be key, bringing together the finalists at the ATP Finals last week: Salisbury against Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. But Norrie and Evans will fancy their chances after their best-ever seasons, even without Andy and Jamie Murray, as France are without Gael Monfils or any top-50 singles player—and there will be no support crowds in Innsbruck.
Group D pitches a recent champion with one of the all-time great nations in the tournament, when 2018 winner Croatia faces 28-time champion Australia. And while the former boasts only one big-name singles player, Cilic, Australia has the luxury of a several solid players, including the 72-ranked John Millman.
But Croatia has often punched above its weight, and did so again to beat Australia in both singles rubbers. The Aussies will now look to Hungary for an easier ride and to keep their hopes alive.
Serbia certainly looks a good bet for Group F, headlined by Djokovic, but with strong support in the shape of Dusan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic. For Germany is without their superstar Zverev or any other top-50 player. The same may said of the third team, Austria, still without Dominic Thiem after months away with a wrist injury.
Who is playing where?
[current ranking]; *2019 semi-finalists
Madrid (which will also host two QFs, plus both SFs and final)
Spain* [current title holder ]
Pablo Carreno Busta (20), Albert Ramos-Vinolas (45), Pedro Martinez (60), Feliciano Lopez (104), Marcel Granollers (7 doubles)
Daniil Medvedev (2), Andrey Rublev (5), Aslan Karatsev (18), Karen Khachanov (29), Evgeny Donskoy
Emilio Gomez, Roberto Quiroz, Diego Hidalgo, Antonio March, Gonzalo Escobar
Vasek Pospisil (133), Brayden Schnur, Steven Diez, Peter Polansky
Alexander Bublik (36), Dmitry Popko (178), Mikhail Kukushkin (183), Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Andrey Golubev
Mikael Ymer (93), Eliaz Ymer (171), Jonathan Mridha, Andre Goransson (64 doubles), Robert Lindstedt
Innsbruck (which will also host QF between winners of C and F)
France  (WC)
Arthur Rinderknech (58), Adrian Mannarino (71), Richard Gasquet (86), Pierre-Hugues Herbert (8 doubles), Nicolas Mahut (5 doubles)
Cameron Norrie (12), Daniel Evans (25), Liam Broady (128), Joe Salisbury (3 doubles), Neal Skupski (20 doubles)
Jiri Vesely (82), Jiri Lehecka (138), Zdenek Kolar (140), Tomas Machac (143)
Serbia  (WC)
Novak Djokovic (1), Dusan Lajovic (33), Filip Krajinovic (42), Miomir Kecmanovic (68), Nikola Cacic (36 doubles)
Jan-Lennard Struff (51), Dominik Koepfer (54), Peter Gojowczyk (85), Kevin Krawietz (14 doubles), Tim Puetz (18 doubles)
Denis Novak (118), Jurij Rodionov (139), Gerald Melzer, Oliver Marach (45 doubles), Philipp Oswald (52 doubles)
Turin (which will also host QF between winners of D and E)
Marin Cilic (30), Nino Serdarusic, Borna Gojo, Mate Pavic (1 doubles), Nikola Mektic (2 doubles)
Alex de Minaur (34), Alexei Popyrin (61), John Millman (72), Alex Bolt (135), John Peers (13 doubles)
Marton Fucsovics (40), Attila Balazs (131), Zsombor Piros, Fabian Marozsan, Mate Valkusz
John Isner (24), Reilly Opelka (26), Frances Tiafoe (38), Jack Sock (147), Rajeev Ram (4 doubles)
Jannik Sinner (10), Lorenzo Sonego (27) Fabio Fognini (37), Lorenzo Musetti (59), Simone Bolelli (25 doubles)
Daniel Galan (111), Nicolas Mejia, Cristian Rodriquez, Juan-Sebastian Cabal (10 doubles), Robert Farah (10 doubles)