ATP Cup 2022: Early tests for top men Medvedev, Norrie, Auger-Aliassime, Berrettini

Dan Evans ensures GB win over Germany, but powerhouse Italy beaten by wild cards Australia

Dan Evans
Dan Evans (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

The first matches of 2022 were sure to bring upsets, tests, and uncertainties about players’ readiness to find their best so soon after closing out 2021 at the ATP Finals and Davis Cup.

Sure enough, some teams began with setbacks courtesy of positive Covid tests—Andrey Rublev for Russia among them—and others had to be adjusted to take account of physical niggles—Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov played only in doubles for Greece and Canada respectively in the first phase of round-robin action.

But the rigours of late 2021 also left some rust on the biggest stars of the show. So world No2 and US Open champion Daniel Medvedev found himself in a real dog-fight against No35 Ugo Humbert that lasted almost three hours, and transitioned from a winning position, a set and 3-0 up, to a loss in a final-set tie-break.

Fortunately for the Russian, his compatriot, the No167 Roman Safiullin, had already put Russia in a strong position after coming back from a set down to beat France’s Arthur Rinderknech in three. He then teamed up with Medvedev to seal the tie on Sydney’s Ken Rosewall arena in a convincing straight-sets win.

Russia, though, is drawn in the same group as the super-power that is Italy, which boasts two top-10 singles players. And the younger Italian, No10-ranked Jannik Sinner, did his bit to take Italy into the lead against Max Purcell of Australia, 6-1, 6-3. However, No7 in the world, Matteo Berrettini, lost to home favourite Alex de Minaur in his opening singles match.

And that meant Berrettini had to come back for the deciding evening doubles alongside Simone Bolelli, but the Italians faced formidable Aussie doubles strength in the shape of John Peers and Luke Saville. Sure enough, the home crowd roared their team on to victory in a late-night finish, 6-3, 7-5.

For Felix Auger-Aliassime, too, it was a tough opening match in the New Year against the USA’s Taylor Fritz, which he lost from a set up. And that put Canada on the back foot in their group, because America’s second string was John Isner, ranked 24, who had already made mincemeat out of Brayden Schnur.

And even with the return of Shapovalov alongside friend and compatriot Auger-Aliassime, Canada could not get a point on the board: Fritz and Isner downed them in straight sets for a clean sweep.

The form of these two teams would have been closely monitored by the other nations in Group C, Germany and Great Britain, who played the concluding chapter of their tie in the Sydney night session.

First up in what always looked like a close tie was Dan Evans who, like teammate Cameron Norrie, had reached a career-high ranking during 2021. Now ranked No25, Evans had won his career-first title in Australia a year ago and went on to make his first Masters semi in Monte-Carlo with wins over Novak Djokovic and Hubert Hurkacz.

Here, he faced the tall, powerful Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 51, and all of Evans’ craft, speed and creativity was on show on his way to an impressive 6-1, 6-2 win in under 70 minutes. He admitted:

“I’ve been practising well, but I didn’t expect to play the match this well!”

But the contest between the top two men was sure to be a tough one for GB’s No1 string, No12 Norrie. The Briton played the ATP Finals and Olympic champion, world No3 Alexander Zverev, and brought with him a 2-0 deficit in previous matches, though that was back in 2019.

Since then, Norrie had become a different player, one of the most improved in 2021. From a ranking of 74 exactly a year ago, the Briton had gone on to win two titles from six finals, including the prestigious Indian Wells trophy.

Just how far Norrie had come was clear in the first set, which proved to be a close affair with no openings on either side until the closing stages. Norrie even had a set point at 5-4 before Zverev took it to a tie-breaker, but there, the German edged the first point against serve, and then surged to the set, 7-6(2). And with that advantage, Zverev raced to the win in another half hour, 6-1.

So it all came down to the doubles, with both Zverev and Evans returning alongside Kevin Krawietz and Jamie Murray respectively. Both the singles men owned substantial doubles skill and experience, but the combination of the leftie former doubles No1 Murray and the all-court talent of Evans soon showed its superiority.

The buzzing, energetic Britons dominated proceedings almost from the start, as they put their swinging serving and pin-point net-work into action, and an early break in both sets saw them power to the win, 6-3, 6-4.

GB next takes on Canada, while Germany meets the USA, with Shapovalov scheduled to return to his No2 singles slot against Evans, in a match-cup between single-handers that could produce fireworks: They have won one match apiece in previous meetings.

Italy take on France, with Berrettini surely keen to reassert his ranking superiority when he takes on Ugo Humbert, while Medvedev will want to do the same against de Minaur in Russia’s tie against Australia.

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