||Photo: ATPCup.com|Photo: TennisTV.com|||Photo: Mauricio Paiz|Photo: Mauricio Paiz|
This isn’t your mother or your father’s January tennis anymore – things have changed.
Gone are the quaint Hopman Cup in Perth, the ATP 250 event in Pune, India and the Sydney tournament for both women and men.
The reason for the upheaval is the new ATP Cup event in Australia featuring 24 national teams which will run from January 3 to 12 in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
Surviving on the women’s side will be the Brisbane, Auckland and Shenzhen tournaments as well as the Doha ATP event in the first full week of January from the 6th to the 12th.
The second week will have women’s events in Hobart and a new tournament in Adelaide as well as the men in Adelaide and in Auckland.
The teams in the ATP Cup are assigned eight each to Brisbane, Sydney and Perth, with the eight then subdivided into groups of four. They will play three round-robin ties in their groups with the six group winners and two best runners-up congregating in Sydney at the newly-renovated Ken Rosewall Arena for the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final from January 9-12.
By general consensus, the ATP Cup is team-event overkill, jammed as it is into a four-month period with the Laver Cup and especially now the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid. But there’s $15 million (US) up for grabs so it’s obviously lucrative for the players.
It’s still hard to give credibility to a competition that’s slotted in the first week of the year. Players usually like to tune up at a more leisurely pace with a Grand Slam event like the Australian Open looming two weeks later.
Canada is in the ATP Cup and will play in Brisbane at the Pat Rafter Arena. It appears the Canadian team will be captained by Adriano Fuorivia, long-time mentor and former coach of Denis Shapovalov who, as his team’s top-ranking player, has the right to choose the team captain. Other team captains that have already been selected by their respective No. 1 players include Great Britain – Tim Henman, France – Gilles Simon, Austria – Thomas Muster, Russia – Marat Safin and Germany – Boris Becker. The latter three are pictured below.
The Canadian team is in Group F – oddly the same group name it had for the Davis Cup Finals two weeks ago in Madrid. The team consists of no. 15 ranked Shapovalov, no. 21 Félix Auger-Aliassime, no. 135 Steven Diez, no. 186 Peter Polansky and no. 138 (doubles) Adil Shamasdin. Here are the other Group F nations:
Alex de Minaur
|Chris Guccione||Alexandros Skorilas||
It’s revealing to look at the Canadian team’s schedule – it starts at 10 a.m. (6 p.m. ET Thursday in Canada) on Friday, Jan. 3 vs. Greece, then vs. Australia at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5 followed by vs. Germany at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Because Canada begins on the first day and has a day off after each of its best-of-three-match ties – two regular singles and then a doubles with no-ad scoring and a match tiebreak instead of a third set – it could wind up playing on only six of the 10 days of the event if it makes it to the final. As at the Davis Cup Finals, Canada would likely also get a day off after the quarter-finals and before the semi-finals and final if it keeps winning.
Unlike the Davis Cup Finals, there are ATP ranking points available at the ATP Cup and an undefeated singles player could earn as many as 750.
Not in Brisbane with the Canadian team will be Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and Brayden Schnur. The no. 31 ranked Raonic is in the main draw of the Doha ATP 250 tournament while no. 150 Pospisil, as of last week, was six spots out of the main draw using his no. 73-protected ranking, and no. 107 Schnur was even further back.
With so many players at the ATP Cup, the Doha event is taking a bit of a hit. Last year, its top four players were (1) Novak Djokovic, (8) Dominic Thiem, (11) Karen Khachanov and (20) Marco Cecchinato. This year it has (16) Stan Wawrinka, (23) Andrey Rublev, (29) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and (31) Raonic.
In the second week of the new season, Schnur, Diez and Polansky will all be playing the qualifying for the Australian Open.
Among the Canadian women in qualifying at Melbourne Park will be no. 211 Leylah Annie Fernandez, 17, with no. 214 Genie Bouchard’s participation dependent on her recovering from a foot injury. Fernandez is also planning to play in Auckland the previous week.
Not mentioned so far has been the current hottest name in Canadian tennis – US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. She’s scheduled to return, as long as she has recovered from the knee injury that forced her to retire from a match at the WTA Finals on October 30, next month in Auckland where it all began for her a year ago. Then she upset no. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in the round-of-16, no. 39 Venus Williams in the quarter-finals and no. 28 Su-Wei Hsieh in the semi-final before losing 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 to no. 14 Julia Goerges in the final. That followed winning three rounds in qualifying after starting the year ranked no. 152. To think she ended the 2019 season at no. 5, and remarkably did that while playing only five tournaments after the month of March.
In Auckland next month, the other high-profile player entered along with Andreescu is no. 10 Serena Williams. During that first week of the year, most of the top players will be at the WTA Premier tournament, the Brisbane International, which features No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, no. 2 Karolina Pliskova, no. 3 Naomi Osaka as well as Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
It’s interesting to look at the last three days of the ATP Cup and the first three days of the women’s Premier event, both going on in Brisbane. Checking the Brisbane International ticket buying offers, it appears the WTA event will not have matches on the main court at Pat Rafter Arena over the first three days – Monday Jan. 6 to Wednesday Jan. 8. The main stadium on those days will be used for the final three days of the nation vs. nation ATP Cup. The one exception among the women could be the top seeds, Barty and Pliskova, who will get first-round byes and so don’t have to play until Thursday when the men’s event is completed and the facilities are given over entirely to the women’s tournament.
All the events going on until January 18th will lead into the Australian Open in Melbourne, which begins on January 20th. That starting date means that for the first time since the Australian Open changed its date from December to January in 1987, the tournament will have its latest finish – on Sunday February 2. Only four times in the past 33 years has the tournament gone into February – in 1998, 2004, 2009 and 2015 – but then only until February 1.
BO BELTS IT
Off season cross training with pops… like riding a 🚲😁 pic.twitter.com/6ZkoACb9KM
— Bo Bichette (@BoFlows) November 26, 2019
It’s always nice to see athletes from other sports playing tennis – it gets tiresome that so many choose to play golf in their time away from their own sport. Above is 21-year Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette hitting with his father, Dante Bichette, a former major leaguer.
In a similar vein, last week during a Toronto Raptors television broadcast, analyst Jack “hello” Armstrong suggested to his on-air partner, Matt Devlin, that he could get some exercise by joining him for tennis at The Boulevard Club in Toronto.
Feature photo: ATPCup.com