January 12, 2020

A Taste of What's to Come?

Well we wrapped up the action at the first-ever ATP Cup overnight, and week-plus of play was not without its fair share of upsets, standouts, and drama -- both on and off the court. And while it was ultimately Serbia that came away with the title, beating Spain Sunday when Novak Djokovic, who'd already downed Rafael Nadal in their singles rubber, joined countryman Dusan Lajovic for a doubles win to claim the match. But it was the performance of a couple others this week that really drew my attention and may set the stage of what we'll see at the Australian Open.

Let's start with the good. I have to say I was impressed by the showing from firebrand Nick Kyrgios, who not only won his first three singles matches -- including one over world #6 Stefanos Tsitsipas -- and scored a dramatic doubles victory with Alex De Minaur in the quarters, but he kicked off the slew of pledges to donate to help relieve the Australian brushfires. The only loss he suffered this week came at the hands of Roberto Bautista Agut who, you may be surprised to realize was the only Spanish singles player to go undefeated this week -- Rafa lost to not only Djokovic in the final, but to David Goffin in the quarters. RBA who kicked off the year at a career high #9 in the world certainly did his part to show he's deserving of the ranking, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him climb even higher still.

Of course not everyone excelled this week. Daniil Medvedev may have helped Russia get as far as the semis, winning his first four matches during the event, but lost his cool even in victory against Diego Schwartzman in the quarters. After a tight first set, which he won, he got a warning for an exchange with the Argentine, and when apparently seeking clarity on what happened, banged his racket against the umpire's chair -- twice. He recovered to pull off the win and ultimately seemed accepting of the penalty, but it still set the wrong tone for his game. And then there's Tsitsipas, who not only lost to Krygios, but also fell in a tight two-setter to twenty-year-old Canadian Shapovalov. It's an unfortunate start for someone who ended last year on the high of a ATP Championship.

But things were really dour for a couple of top players who went winless in Australia. First there's former world #3 Alexander Zverev, who only won one set in his three matches down under. It was only thanks to compatriot Jan-Lennard Struff's win over Greece's Michail Pervolarakis that Germany won any of its ties. Even more disappointing was John Isner's 0-3 record during the event. He, too, only won one set, but his was against world #53, Norway's Casper Ruud, a seemingly much less formidable opponent on paper, and he still lost the match. The U.S. was blanked in its showing at the ATP, finishing dead last in its group.

As for the tournament itself, there were certainly a few things left to be desired. On the positive side, the event drew more than a little bit of star power, with fifteen of the top twenty players taking part. But the format also drew some complaints. Like in traditional Davis Cup -- I admittedly haven't yet figured out the new format -- country teams played round robins in different locations, three cities across Australia. But like current Davis Cup, all the action was boiled down to a short period, in this case a little more than a week, with the qualifying teams coming from Brisbane and Perth to Sydney for the quarterfinals. That meant not a lot of time to adjust to different weather and different time zones -- Nadal and Medvedev both voiced their frustration after those losses and tantrums. As an indication of the toll the event took on players, both Djokovic and Medvedev pulled out of tournaments this week to rest up for Melbourne.

The Grand Slam there, you surely know, is just a week away, and the ATP Cup certainly gave us some ideas for who might be standouts -- and possibly who could disappoint. Whatever the case, you can be sure the action won't go entirely according to plan. And I can't wait to see it all!

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