Flashback to 14-year-old Sascha

Little brothers growing up in tennis families will often try to become pros.

Sometimes, little brother surpasses big brother. But not often does he end up one of the best in the world.

Flash back to 2011 when the ATP profiled the Zverev brothers. Young Alexander, just 14 and much shorter than big brother Mischa, already had the smooth strokes.

Sunday, when Zverev joked after winning the ATP Tour Finals that his father Alexander Sr. didn’t understand half of what he was saying, he wasn’t kidding. Dad did his interview for the feature in … Russian.

“ATP Cup” is born: let the jousting begin

All righty then.

Two years in the works, the ATP Tour finally has unveiled the World Team Cup.

It’s already renamed the “ATP Cup”, with a logo that hopefully will … grow on us.

So now the fun can begin before it first sees the light of Aussie day in Jan. 2020.

Because, already, the general (though not unanimous) consensus is that the ATP Cup and the new Davis Cup will be challenged to both thrive within six weeks of each other.

(Should the ITF and Kosmos rename the Davis Cup the “ITF Cup”, just so we know exactly what the real battle is here and keep it simple? Just thinking out loud…).

The president of the Players Council, who also happens to be the new world No. 1, has already been clear about this. And Novak Djokovic’s voice matters, big time.

introduced

On the eve of the splashy presentation in a movie theater Thursday, the Serb was a bit of a buzzkill. But he was speaking the truth.

“I think in the next two years we’ll have both events happening in a very similar format if not the same, six weeks apart. … I honestly don’t think it’s good for the sport. More job opportunities for players, yes. But I think it’s not sustainable. It will happen that we will have two average events. So I think creating one event is an ideal scenario and I think outcome for everyone,” he said.

“From what I’ve heard from conversations with people from all of the sides, different sides in this sport, they all want to have one event because it’s over-saturated with different cups, different events.”

ATP vs. ITF – who will prevail?

Kosmos and the ITF would likely disagree.

Unless they were the ones to kill the ATP Cup, and have the field all to themselves, of course.

And since Kosmos frontman Gerard Piqué brought the idea to the ATP first only to be shot down by those on the board who represent the tournaments, there’s some “guy stuff” going on there as well (You ladies know what I mean).

“You have post US Open: Laver Cup, then Davis Cup, World Team Cup first week of the year. It’s really over-saturated. Within three, four months, it’s too many events,” Djokovic said. “We’ll have to work it out. But we have to start from somewhere.”

Not sold on the tournament logo. The new ATP logo is great. But the use of it here sort of summons up something Arantxa Sanchez would clip onto her pleated Reebok skirt.

That “somewhere” was a presentation of the new team event Thursday, although it lacked many of the basic, necessary details. 

There is no better time to do it, though.

The ATP Tour Finals are the final event of the season, with the best players on hand in a big media market.

An alternative would have been to unveil it at the Australian Open in January, given that’s where it is to be held. But the ATP probably is better off doing it before Kosmos and the ITF get the marketing machine rolling for the “new” Davis Cup next week at the final “old” Davis Cup final in Lille, France.

At the press conference, Kermode said representatives from the various groups had met in London on Tuesday. He said the discussions were “cordial”, according to the Daily Mail.

Two events “sustainable”

Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said that having three team events within four months – the Laver Cup (in which Tennis Australia is an investor), the Davis Cup (in which it has no skin in the game) and the ATP Cup (in which the ATP and Tennis Australia will split the proceeds) is “sustainable”.

The Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell reports that an amicable meeting between the ATP and ITF Tuesday give hope that the two events could be merged to make one. But that’s down the line. 

The Kosmos Group, spurned by the ATP, now calls the shots on Davis Cup, not the ITF. And the “new” Davis Cup is only part of the group’s plan to take up more space in the game by making use of the two weeks on the schedule now freed up by the new format.

The ATP got everybody on board for the video.

24 teams, 10 days, $15 million

Djokovic, along with John Isner, made a quick appearance at the presentation Thursday, which outlined the basic format without providing many details – including the planned host cities, which will be announced “in due course”.

The prevailing thought is that three cities will be used for the preliminaries, with the finals in Sydney.

“We wanted to do a fresh new team event. We wanted to do something that was very vibrant, different, but equally we wanted to start the season off with a bang,” ATP CEO Chris Kermode said. “Our job is to get our star players, (whom) I truly believe are the best athletes in the world – we need to tell their story better to a wider audience and events like this can help telling that story.”

Click here to see a larger version of the potential rosters. Nations qualify on the ranking of their No. 1 player.

Here’s what we do know.

There will be six pools of four nations. The six pool winners, plus two wild cards (presumably the two nations with the next-best records) will advance to a knockout format that, in essence, begins at the quarterfinal phase.

Each nation can field up to five players. They’ll play two singles and a doubles.

The total prize money will be $15 million (compared to what, at this point, appears to be $18 million for Davis Cup, fo 18 teams).

But the bonus is that up to 750 ATP Tour ranking points will be available for the winners.

“To try to find a place in the calendar is very, very difficult. It has a knock-on effect. We didn’t want to do an event that was additive,” Kermode said. “And we wanted to be protective of our event. Week 1, historically, nine of the top 10 have played. Whatever the event is, they’re playing that week anyway. (It was about) calendar flow, and least damage to every other event.”

2020 calendar helpful, randomly

The beginning of any tennis season can range from Dec. 30 to as late as Jan. 6. It depends on where things fall that year – notably, Labour Day between week 35 and week 36 during the US Open. It’s a five- or six-year cycle that also changes slightly depending on when the leap years fall.

A Tennis.Life source had a look at the draft of the 2020 schedule. And, as expected, we’re told it will include the latest possible dates for the Australian Open. The fist major of the year will run from Jan. 20 – Feb. 2.

introduced

As a comparison, the 2019 Australian Open is almost as early as it can be: Jan. 14 – 27.

On its tentative 2020 schedule, the ATP has the ATP Cup pencilled in for 10 days, starting Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 and running through Jan. 12. So there will still be room the week before Melbourne.

The ATP plans to squeeze the 250-level Auckland event in there, as well as a second official ATP tournament to be determined. 

In subsequent years, though, it won’t be nearly as easy.

Christmas Down Under?

intoduced

In 2024, to keep that same extra week, the ATP Cup would have to start on Dec. 29. And that would mean that all those players would have to get down to Australia way before Christmas to acclimate and get over jet lag.

(It’s been fairly clearly stated by the tournament that it’s not practical to push the Australian Open back, as everyone returns to school/work the following week after the summer holiday).

Given the top players generally won’t play a tournament in that gap week, it poses an interesting conflict. The Australian Open would now be played in weeks 4-5 of the season, not weeks 3-4 as it currently is. And because the players might already have played as many as six matches (perhaps even doubles) during the ATP Cup, it’s not as though they’ll need much more match practice.

From the draft schedule, it appears the ATP also plans to keep the Doha tour event in January. But it will be held the same week as the ATP Cup. Evidently, that long-running tournament may have do without some of its more faithful attendees – notably No. 1 Djokovic.

They’ll have to handle all that as it comes. Who knows; the ATP schedule might have a very different look by then, without the four Davis Cup weeks that have limited flexibility all these years.

(All this might well affect the Abu Dhabi exhibition, since players who intend to play the ATP Cup will have to get Down Under too early some years. Therein lies the challenge in making any kind comprehensive overhaul of the schedule. You take out one domino, and others fall).

Pune, Sofia would move

The tournament in Pune, India (the former Chennai), currently played the first week of the season, looks as though it would be moved. It would be pushed back to the week currently occupied by Davis Cup – the first week of February.

Pune would compete with Montpellier and Cordoba (the former Quito tournament).

The preliminary round of Davis Cup in 2020 is pencilled in for the first week of March – between Acapulco and Indian Wells. That’s not ideal for players who come over from Europe or Asia to the U.S. ahead of Indian Wells to play Acapulco.

If their ties take place in Europe, it could affect their planning significantly.

Then again, no matter where that first Davis Cup week is positioned, it’s always inconvenient for someone.

Sofia (Bulgaria), currently played during that early February Montpellier week, looks to be moving to the end of September.

In that slot, it would compete with Zhuhai and Chengdu, China. That’s the week just prior to the two big Asia weeks (Beijing/Tokyo and then Shanghai) and is a good transition week in roughly the same time zone for the players ranked outside the top 20 who play them.

Players wanting to compete in Sofia would theoretically have to rush all the way to Asia afterwards, with little adjustment or acclimatization before those significant events.

Those are definitely not ideal conditions for either tournament.  But in the grand scheme of things, it’s relative minor collateral damage. 

Tennis stars hit the London Tube

The players’ boat rides to the O2 during the ATP Tour Finals are somewhat iconic by now.

But on Friday, they went everyman – on the London Underground (by the credit on this video, sponsored).

The ride along the Jubilee Line from North Greenwich to Westminster takes about 15 minutes, maybe a little longer during rush hour as the players set out on their walk on the wild side.

Can you just imagine the people in the Tube when they saw them?

The players were headed to the Houses of Parliament for the tournament’s official launch.

ATP goes green at the O2

The ATP is debuting a new initiative at the Tour Finals that hopefully will become a staple of the regular tour stops.

Players and their teams are being given reusable bottles for on-court drinks and sealed glass bottles for preparation of those on-court drinks.

This is optional. You’d expect ATP Player Council vice-president Kevin Anderson, who has strong feelings about setting an example in that area, as one strongly among those on board.

Also available are water coolers and fountains for staff and media and reusable, take-home cups for alcoholic drinks consumed by the fans.  

A year ago, Tsitsipas wins his first

Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Gaël Monfils 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4 to survive a tough first-round draw in Shanghai Monday.

It was his 34th win of the season.

Notably, exactly a year ago on Monday in Shanghai, Tsitsipas won the first ATP main-draw match of his career, after getting through qualifying.

It was his 11th Tour event, and seventh main-draw match.

Ranked No. 131, he defeated No. 40 Karen Khachanov of Russia 7-5, 6-3.

In a full circle move, Tsitsipas’s second-round match in Shanghai is against … Khachanov. It’s the first time they’ll meet since then.

Khachanov is No. 27. Tsitsipas is No. 15, and the No. 10 seed.

After five years, del Potro is London bound

The second-round match in Beijing with Karen Khachanov was definitely Colossus vs. Colossus.

But once Juan Martin del Potro was through, the reward was a trip to the ATP Tour Finals in London next month.

He joins Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic among those qualified so far.

It will be del Potro’s first trip to the Tour finals in five years – and 10 years since his first appearance in 2008. He made the final in the event’s debut in London in 2009.

“It will be an amazing moment for me,” del Potro said.

Colonel Youzhny calls it a career

One more victory, and 36-year-old Russian Mikhail Youzhny could have retired with exactly 500.

But it wasn’t to be. He lost in the second round of the St. Petersburg Open, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3 to No. 5 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

Youzhny’s win over Mirza Basic in the first round was his 499th ATP Tour win. With 609, Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the only Russian to break the 500-win barrier.

“It’s just statistics,” he told ATPTour.com. “I never made the final of a Grand Slam. I never made the semi-finals of an (Masters] 1000 event. Many, many things I didn’t do in tennis.”

Tsitsipas says Russian discipline key to success

Stefanos Tsitsipas has penned an essay that chronicles his experiences, and those of friend Alex Caldwell, with wildfires in Greece.

“Maybe we got along so well because we’re different from so many other Greeks. We have discipline,” Tsitsipas wrote of Caldwell, who plays at Radford University. “I have many cases of friends and people who I know could have played tennis at a high level, but they weren’t committed. They missed home too much or couldn’t stand the travel.”

Tsitsipas says the discipline it takes is “a trait that I have thanks to my mixed background.”

Amazing win streak by Kontinen-Peers

Henri Kontinen and John Peers have not had a standout season.

But it might all turn around, now that they’ve taken the Masters 1000 title in Toronto.

It’s their third  at that level, after Shanghai last year and Paris in 2016.

What’s notable about it is that it’s the 10th straight time the pair has reached the final – and won. They are 13-1 in finals together overall, including the ATP Tour Finals the last two years.

Their only finals loss came in 2016 in Shanghai.

They move from 13th to eighth in the race to London.

Frances Tiafoe’s Canadian Courtship

There was an extra cheering section for American Frances Tiafoe at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last week.

The 20-year-old, who jumped into the top 40 for the first time Monday, has Toronto native Ayan Broomfield as his longtime girlfriend.

When asked in press, Tiafoe told a fully self-deprecating tale of how he made this happen, after being introduced by fellow player Victoria Duval.

Broomfield, who turns 21 Monday, had a good junior career and turned it into a scholarship with Clemson University, before transferring to UCLA for the 2017-18 season.

Broomfield seemed to take it well.