This Tuesday will start the second edition of the ATP Cup. A reduced edition in its format but not in its interest since 15 of the 17 best players in the world will be present, 11 of which will be on the courts for this first day of competition that will pit Canada against Serbia, Austria against Italy, Spain against Australia and then Russia against Argentina. One poster will be particularly eye-catching, the one opposing the world number one Novak Djokovic to the Canadian Denis Shapovalov who was defeated in the tie-break of the 3rd set one year ago in this same competition. Regarding the playing conditions on the two courts that will host the tournament, Rod Laver and John Cain Arena, John Millman told The Age that they were rather fast: "According to the feedback I got, the conditions are very different from last year, really fast. They seem to have changed the composition of that GreenSet surface that we first played on last year in Australia where sand was coming out of the court, especially in Brisbane, which was bound to slow the game down. But it's not just the courts that are changing this season as the balls behave very differently. They kind of fly around on the court, which makes them a little harder to control and creates even faster conditions. This will probably favour players who can hold their serve games, the biggest ball hitters. »
Serbia vs Canada
To open the ball on the Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic's Serbia, defending champion, will face Shapovalov's Canada, serious outsider of this group A as it is Dusan Lajovic and Milos Raonic who will try to give the first point to their country. The Canadian will be the favourite of this number 2 game. The two players have already played each other twice on the ATP Tour, with one win apiece, but the only hard-fought match between the two players was won by Milos Raonic in Cincinnati in 2018 (6-3, 6-3). In these fast paced conditions, Raonic has all the keys to victory, having already reached the last four and four quarter-finals in the last six editions of Melbourne. As for the Serb, he likes to sublimate himself to represent his country even if the task promises to be difficult. The stat to remember : Lajovic has lost 21 of his 26 career matches on hard court to the big servers. Then, it is the world number 1 Novak Djokovic who will enter this competition by confronting Denis Shapovalov, for the moment defeated during his first five duels against the Serb. Needless to say that Djokovic will obviously be the favorite of this match even if Shapovalov had only given up the weapons in the decisive game of the 3rd set one year ago in this same ATP Cup. Last week, Djokovic first withdrew from an exhibition match in Adelaide before finally going to court to play a set against Jannik Sinner, who won 6-3: "I'm sorry I didn't make it to the court for the first match, he said. I had to follow a treatment with my physiotherapist and I wasn't feeling at my best these last few days. I didn't know how I was going to react. I wanted to play but it's not easy to play with a strap. It's part of our job too. We are professionals and we learn over the years to play with pain and it's just a question of whether or not the pain is bearable. I've just come out of a big training period to prepare for the Australian Open as best as I can. I didn't want to take any risks but the emotion was too strong for me to come back to the court and see the stands full. I had to play. "He hasn't been practicing as much in the last few days due to a burst light bulb in his hand. But now he seems to be ready for the start of the competition. Canada's ranking has dropped a little bit in the last few days. It seems more than likely that the final win will be in the doubles match. Theoretically, the pairs Krajinovic-Cacic vs Polansky-Diez are scheduled on paper but it seems likely that to go for the win, both countries will play their best players. Novak Djokovic played doubles twice last season against France and Spain in the final. He played at the time with Viktor Troicki who is now the captain of Serbia. Djokovic's partner should be Krajinovic, friend and training partner of the world number one, with whom he has already played 7 doubles matches, including three in 2019. If Shapovalov and Raonic unite in doubles, it will be only the second match of the Canadians together after a match in Brisbane at the end of 2017. Neither of these players is a pure doubles specialist but Djokovic's victories against the French and Spanish pairs a year ago prove that it is difficult to beat the world number one even in doubles. If Serbia is logically the favorite, one can nevertheless wonder if Canada's odds are not too high. The answer will be given on the court, but a victory for Canada would be a small thunderbolt, since it could well eliminate Serbia from the outset, who will no longer be in control of its destiny in this group where Germany also lives. Milos Raonic: "I'm happy to be here and I'm looking forward to playing in this ATP Cup. For me, this slightly longer off-season is a good thing. It ended up being much longer but I was able to train without any physical problems. So I'm happy to start now. » Denis Shapovalov: "I feel confident. I feel like I'm playing very good tennis in training. Of course, it's the beginning of the season, so there are really not a lot of expectations. You just have to see where your level is. It's really fun to be back here to play, to compete, especially with this group of guys. It's events like this that I enjoy the most. Playing for my country! » Novak Djokovic: "I feel at home in Australia, in Melbourne, especially on the Rod Laver Arena. It is, by far, the most titled tennis court of my career... I have too many memories, beautiful memories, to choose one that would stand out. Every year that I come back to the court, I feel even better. The more you obviously win on a court, the more confident you feel to come back. »
Austria vs Italy
The two competitors from France will face each other on this first day of competition. To open the ball on the John Cain Arena, Austria faces Italy in this group C. The first poster of this confrontation will oppose Dennis Novak to Fabio Fognini. It is the Italian who will be favorite of this duel between the number 2 of the two countries. The two players have only played each other once on clay in 2015 so there is no information to draw from this match. The Italian will have to be wary for two reasons. First, because he is far from his best level after a double ankle operation 7 months ago. He lacks confidence and rhythm in his legs. Then, because Novak had been good one year ago in front of Cilic and Pella. The Austrian is not a specialist of the hard but it is also the case for Fognini even if the intrinsic talent of the two players gives a clear advantage to the Italian. However, Fabio Fognini showed great things during these last trainings, a nice intensity that he hadn't shown for a while. In any case, nothing will be taken for granted after this first match as the duel of the number one will oppose Dominic Thiem to Matteo Berrettini. This time, it is the number 3 in the world who will be the favorite against an Italian who hasn't shown his best level for a long time. The two players have already met six times for a 4-2 score to the advantage of the Austrian but on hard, the balance is 2 victories everywhere. Berrettini hasn't beaten a top 10 since the end of 2019, it was against Thiem at the Masters in London, but it should be noted that the Austrian was already qualified for the semi-finals. A few weeks earlier, Berrettini had once again beaten Thiem, this time in Shanghai. The Austrian is therefore wary of the Austrian even if the Italian's level of play in Antalya at the beginning of January was not very reassuring. Thiem played an exhibition match against Nadal a few days ago. A rather encouraging defeat (7-5, 6-4) as the level and intensity was not at all exhibition. Theoretical doubles: Oswald-Weissborn vs Bolelli-Vavassori. Once again, if the two nations are back to back before the double, there is little chance that the expected players will face each other. The advantage could be given in this situation to Italy with Simone Bolelli, already a multiple doubles champion. In addition, Fabio Fognini would be a partner of choice, as he has already won three titles with Bolelli, including the Australian Open in 2015! Austria's status as favorites therefore hangs by a thread, namely a victory for Novak over Fognini. A surprise is possible on this confrontation. Berrettini has trained rather well with Auger-Aliassime over the last few days. He will have to post a quite other level than the one glimpsed in Antalya at the beginning of the year.
Spain vs Australia
Spain, finalist in last year's edition, faces hosts Australia in a rematch of last year's semi-final where Spain won 3-0. The first match on the Rod Laver will pit Roberto Bautista Agut against John Millman. The Spaniard, number 13 in the world, will be the favourite to bring the first point to Spain but beware, he has been under strict quarantine for two weeks. What physical condition will he be in? "I've been training a lot these last few months. I think it's now time to start the competition. Everyone has worked well and I'm ready to start this season," said RBA, who offered a four-day season of top-level training with Medvedev at the end of January. He looks really sharp despite being in his 40s. The two players know each other well, they have already faced each other five times, three of them hard. All five matches were won by Roberto Bautista Agut, but most of the time in tight matches. In any case, even if RBA loses, Spain will be able to count on Rafael Nadal and his doubles pair to win this duel. Rafa will be the favorite against De Minaur even if the latter managed to take a set from him in their last match. For Spanish captain Pepe Vendrell, "all the players are ready to play at a very competitive level. » The theoretical double: The Carreno Busta-Granollers pair will be a clear favorite against Peers-Saville and even if De Minaur or Millman fits in the double, it seems difficult to impress the Spaniards to be surprised. Marcel Granollers is a specialist in doubles (21 titles), just like Carreno Busta, who won the tournament in Cincinnati in 2020 with his 21 titles.... Alex De Minaur. This Spain-Australia seems rather unbalanced and the odds are logical. Rafael Nadal: "We arrived in Melbourne late in the evening of January 29th. I wanted to thank once again the people of Adelaide and South Australia for welcoming us during the last 14 days of quarantine. Also Tennis Australia for the organization of this exhibition with all these people who came to watch us. It was great to see tennis with the public, to have fun and to enjoy. It is also the result of the successful management of the pandemic in this country. Thank you very much and I hope to see you next year. Now, hello Melbourne and thank you Victorians for hosting us. We will try to give the fans around the world and the fans here in Australia a good show. For people who are suffering a lot at home, we will try to give them good entertainment. » Alex De Minaur: "I'm very happy with the work we've done as a team throughout the pre-season and especially in the last two weeks. I feel ready. I'm really looking forward to going out there and getting out on the court to defend Australia's colors. I've been really excited for a long time, that's for sure. I started the year off very well with this title in Antalya. Now we've had a few days in quarantine to prepare and look at the different aspects of my game to fine-tune. »
Russia vs Argentina
Group D will start its competition with an attractive Russian-Argentinean. While Russia will be able to rely on its two top singles players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, Argentina is not immune to creating a surprise with Diego Scwhartzman, Guido Pella and the duo Zeballos-Gonzalez. The first match between Rublev and Pella was also decisive. A relatively unbalanced duel on paper as Rublev is supposed to be superior to Pella on hard paper in particular. In case of Rublev's victory, Russia could count on Medvedev to ensure the qualification with a favorable balance of 5-0 against Schwartzman. In any case, it would be better for Russia that there are no bad surprises on these two games since the double should go in the bag of the Argentinians, much more experienced. The theoretical double: Karatsev-Donskoy vs Zeballos Gonzalez. If Rublev or Medvedev defeats, there is little chance that Karatsev and Donskoy will defend Russia's survival in this group. We should see Medvedev and/or Rublev invite themselves to the party but the Argentinean double seems relatively safe: already 37 matches played for a record of 25 victories. But on hard, they played only three games. The two players know each other by heart with notably Horacio Zeballos, former 3rd player in the world. Daniil Medvedev: "Everyone in the team is in a good mood, ready to give their all. This is the most important thing. I played in the ATP Cup last year. It's always cool these team competitions, because it puts you out of the zone where you always focus on yourself... You want to win as a team. You have a team behind you on the bench supporting you. That's something special. We play for the country. It is not usual to have team competitions in tennis. In fact, I think the guys will feel it from the first second, especially when there's a crowd. » Andrey Rublev: "This will be my first experience here. It's incredible to be part of this team, especially with Donskoy as captain. I think we have a great team. But all the teams are strong. Every country has their best players here. It's going to be really difficult. In my case, I don't expect anything. I just hope we will do our best. At the end of the day, what's going to happen is going to happen. For me, my priority is to give the best of myself, to enjoy it, to give it my all on the field, and then we'll see what happens. »
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