ATP Cup 2021: Fewer teams, same quality; Top four Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem, Medvedev headline
12 of top 13 men feature in 12-team Australian overture in Melbourne
The ATP Cup may have had its wings clipped by a global pandemic, with 24 teams becoming 12.
It may have been forced to focus entirely on Melbourne rather than featuring Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, and may now be a six-day prelude to the Australian Open rather than the full fortnight that its first playing enjoyed last year. But the premise remains the same.
The top men’s players in the world will lead their home teams in this points-rich singles-and-doubles round-robin competition, and will afford some much-needed competition between key contenders at the first Major of 2021.
What is more, it will take place in a packed week of activity following two weeks of quarantine. Two more ATP events will run concurrently to ensure that all members of the Open’s singles draw have an opportunity to play, though these will follow the traditional knock-out format. The advantage of qualifying to play in the ATP Cup is that each singles player is guaranteed at least two best-of-three matches, more if they advance to the semis, and perhaps still more if they are selected for doubles, too.
Of course, some teams come into the competition with a significant edge. For while each has at least one top-12 player—the exception being host nation Australia, which enjoys a wild card in the draw—some nations boast more than one top-20 player.
Russia, indeed, has two top-10 players in No4 Daniil Medvedev, who went on a tear at the end of 2020 to win the Paris Masters and ATP Finals, and No8 Andrey Rublev, who picked up five titles in the course of a truncated season comprising just six months of play.
It has fallen to Japan and Argentina to take on the Russian duo, though the home team, led by Alex de Minaur, has the unenviable prospect of a Spanish team boasting last-year’s runner-up, Spain in the shape of Rafael Nadal and the No13 ranked Roberto Bautista Agut.
But it is Group A that looks ready to make the biggest headlines. Title-holding Serbia is led again by No1 Novak Djokovic, who won seven singles and two doubles matches in last year’s final. He is able backed again by the not inconsiderable presence of No26 Dusan Lajovic, who won four of his six matches last year. Noticeable too is that Djokovic’s doubles partner in 2020, Viktor Troicki, has been nominated as the Serbian captain.
But Serbia will face Germany—also a strong duo in Alexander Zverev and No37 Jan-Lennard Struff—and Canada, featuring Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic (Nos 12 and 15 respectively).
Compact teams are the order of the day
Virtually all the teams have nominated captains from among the players’ existing coaches or immediate entourage. For Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem, that also means family members, and like Troicki, some current players are doubling up—in Diego Schwartzman’s case, he is literally the lead player and captain.
For this exceptional year of reduced-size entourages in Australia, teams may even appoint a captain of a different nationality, as in the case of Nishikori’s coach, former Major doubles champion Max Mirnyi.
First the No2 players of each team face each other, then the No1 players face off, and the tie is concluded with a doubles match. All the doubles matches will be played irrespective of the two singles results except in the final. Singles matches will be best-of-three tie-break sets, and doubles will feature no-ad scoring and a match tie-break in lieu of a third set.
ATP Cup draw and line-ups
12 teams have been drawn into four groups of three for the round-robins. Four group winners advance to the semi-finals.
Serbia: Novak Djokovic (No1), Dusan Lajovic (No26); captain Viktor Troicki
Germany: Alexander Zverev (No7), Jan-Lennard Struff (No37); captain Mischa Zverev
Canada: Denis Shapovalov (No12), Milos Raonic (No15); captain Peter Polansky
Spain: Rafael Nadal (No2), Roberto Bautista Agut (No13); Pepe Vendrell
Greece: Stefanos Tsitsipas (No6), Michail Pervolarakis (No462); captain Apostolos Tsitsipas
Australia (WC): Alex de Minaur (No23), John Millman (No38); captain Lleyton Hewitt
Austria: Dominic Thiem (No3), Dennis Novak (No99); captain Wolfgang Thiem
Italy: Matteo Berrettini (No10), Fabio Fognini (No17); captain Vincenzo Santopadre
France: Gael Monfils (No11), Benoit Paire (No28); captain Richard Ruckelshausen
Russia: Daniil Medvedev (No4), Andrey Rublev (No8); captain Evgeny Donskoy
Argentina: Diego Schwartzman (No9), Guido Pella (No44); captain Schwartzman
Japan: Kei Nishikori (PR10), Yoshihito Nishioka (No57); Max Mirnyi