With fancy graphics and videos, a fun slogan (“I’m in”) and three briefcases full of … cell phones, the new ATP Cup held its official draw Monday in Sydney.
Brisbane and Perth, the other two sites where the preliminary rounds will be held, held simultaneous events.
The top 18 teams were set after Andy Murray agreed to use his protected ranking of No. 2 to get Great Britain in.
Australia, which has to be considered a threat at home, gets the wild card as host team. The Aussies are currently ranked behind one-man band nations like Georgia and Greece because the rankings are based on the ranking of the highest-ranked player from that country.
Five teams still remain to be qualified.
And once that happens Nov. 13, after the Paris Indoors but before the ATP Tour Finals, all six four-team brackets will be filled out.
U.S. in a tough bracket
The U.S., whose top players are John Isner (No. 20) and Taylor Fritz (No. 30), are in a really tough pool with Russia and Italy.
Canada had a very doable doable draw in Brisbane – until wild card Australia was drawn into their group, a 1-in-6 chance.
Alexander Zverev and the pesky Jan-Lennard Struff are no pushover. But Greece basically has … Stefanos Tsitsipas. The fourth team could be Chile, Uruguay or even … Moldova.
It should set up some nice “young-gun” matchups between Félix Auger-Aliassime and Zverev, and Auger-Aliassime and Tsitsipas.
The most evenly-balanced bracket could be Group E, which includes Austria, Croatia and Argentina.
Juan Martin del Potro, currently ranked No. 71 after his 2018 US Open points dropped off, will surely be a slam dunk to be selected to a squad that can have as many as five players.
With the big Argentine scheduled to return in Stockholm next month, you’d certainly hope he’ll be there.
Scheduling ensures stars will show
The ATP Cup no doubt has hurt the other “regular” ATP Tour events that herald the start of the season.
It’s hard to know who will play Doha, which conflicts directly with this new event. But process of elimination tells you what kind of field it might have. And this is a tournament that regularly welcomed Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal over the last decade. That hurts.
As well, most of the top players play one tuneup event. And they almost never play the week before a major. So the ATP Cup will pretty much be it for them.
Brisbane and the new tournament in Adelaide (which essentially replaces the old Sydney tour event for the men) now are staged the week before the Australian Open. There aren’t big enough cheques in the world to confirm the world’s best.
Federer hasn’t played a tuneup event since 2015, when he played the third of three straight years in Brisbane.
All of which to say, Auckland and the new Adelaide event don’t have a shot at them. Auckland has gotten the next-best possible player, announcing that new No. 4 Daniil Medvedev will play.
(On the women’s side, Auckland has announced Serena Williams. And Bianca Andreescu will return to the place where it all started for her last January).
Adelaide hasn’t announced anyone on the men’s side. But it does have Simona Halep on the women’s side. As a new event, with a lot of investment in infrastructure, the first year (and every subsequent year) will be a struggle.
And it highlights one of those ubiquitous tennis conflicts of interest. Tennis Australia is heavily involved in the promotion and staging of the ATP Cup. It has killed off the popular (and fun) Hopman Cup, and moved other tournaments around, to make it happen.
And yet, as a national federation, you’d think its primary priority would be to promote and ensure the success of its homegrown events. Like Adelaide and Brisbane. But you have to follow the money trail, in the end.
Will Moldova make it to Oz?
Here are the teams currently ranked No. 19 and below in the ATP Cup standings.
With Grigor Dimitrov’s great effort at the US Open, he vaulted his country into a virtually sure participation in the tournament. But he won’t have much help; next ranked in Bulgaria is Dimitar Kuzmanov, a 26-year-old ranked No. 324.
You have to like Poland, too, with youngsters Hubert Hurkacz and Kamil Majchrzak both in the top 85.
You would expect Kazakhstan to make it. Its top player, Mikhail Kukushkin, is currently ranked No. 57 but is well capable of putting up a couple of big results during the fall season to seal the deal. So is the mercurial Alexander Bublik, currently ranked No. 69.
As for the rest, Czech Republic is hanging on by the threads of former top-10 player Tomas Berdych’s future in the game, as they are at No. 26 because of his protected ranking. By 2020, there’s no certainty he’ll even be playing.
Most of the teams would welcome Moldova in their brackets. The top gun, Radu Albot, is solid and ranked No. 42. But the country’s second-ranked singles player is at No. 856.
Who will play?
It will be interesting to see the size of the teams that the various countries will field.
The rules are as follows:
“A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two members with singles ATP Ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking.”
Canada could be deep
At the moment, the top two players from each qualified country are committed based on their rankings last Monday. For Canada, that’s Félix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic, at No. 21 and No. 24.
But Raonic has been injured since Rogers Cup, although he’s due to return this week in Laver Cup. If he falls below the top two – i.e., if Denis Shapovalov, just 140 ranking points behind at No. 33 – passes him, Raonic can be off the hook if he doesn’t want to play.
Of course, all three might well be on the squad. Which means it would be a very deep squad.
Weak No. 2s
Of the teams already qualified, some are very deep.
Some – not so much.
Take Greece, for example.
Tsitsipas is obviously a threat. The second singles (and even the doubles), not so much. You’d think Tsitsipas’s younger brother Petros will make it.
Georgia, which is in Group B with Spain and France, has top-20 player Nikoloz Basilashvili. But again, not much to back him up.
And what of South Africa, which qualified on the basis of Kevin Anderson’s ranking?
Anderson, a Florida-resident, played only five tournaments in 2019 – none since Wimbledon – and just had knee surgery.
It is slightly ironic that he would be representing his country, as he hasn’t played Davis Cup since 2011 (for some legit reasons, mind you), or the Olympics since Beijing in 2008.
But more crucially, he also has a title and 250 points to defend in Pune, a tournament that had opened the season but now has been pushed back to after the Australian Open.
If he’s not ready to go, the nation has one reasonably good player in No. 113 Lloyd Harris. But after that, the ranks thin out considerably.
Serbia and France won’t be unhappy to see them in their group.
All in all, there probably aren’t 24 credible teams in the mix. A better number might have been 18. But some very low-ranked players – many of whom could never afford to make a trip Down Under to start 2020 and may never even have been there, ever – will be happy to have the opportunity to earn some cash.
The detailed schedule of who plays who and when will be released at about 3 a.m. EDT on Monday.
(Graphics from the ATP Cup and ATP Tour websites).