The ATP Cup is the latest big event to be added to the tennis calendar, and if all goes well it’s going to be a blast. Scheduled to take place in early January, before the Australian Open, it will be a 24-nation competition, essentially organized as a miniature World Cup for tennis.
Teams will be divided into six groups of four. Each team will play every other team in its group, with a tie consisting of two singles matches (between each team’s number 1 and number 2 seeds, respectively) and one doubles match. After group play, all six winners will advance to the quarterfinals alongside the two runners-up that performed best. From that point on, it will be a knock-out tournament.
It’s a little bit early right now to analyze the entire tournament, because we don’t yet know the full field of competing countries. However, with 19 of the 24 countries having been drawn into groups, and several top countries having already confirmed which players will be competing, we can at least take a look at some of the prospective favorites.
It’s awfully difficult to look at the participants for the ATP Cup and come to any conclusion other than that Spain should be favored. Rafael Nadal is signed on to lead the team on the heels of his fourth U.S. Open title, and he’ll be joined by world number 10 Roberto Bautista Agut. Bautista Agut may not have distinguished himself as much in recent Grand Slams, but only one other team in the event looks likely to boast two top-10 players. And needless to say, that team won’t have Rafael Nadal. Doubles chemistry is going to be the wild card in this whole tournament, but when it comes to individual prowess, Spain is the team to beat.
Russia, incidentally, is the other team that looks like it may well have two top-10 players. Right now, U.S. Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev looks to be the headliner, with world number 9 Karen Khachanov at his side. These two will be a very exciting draw, as they represent two thirds of the Russians’ trio of future stars (the other being Andrey Rublev). Khachanov has had some awfully good matches against top players, and there should be little doubt after Medvedev’s Open performance that these two can win the Cup.
Spain and Russia are unquestionably going to be the top two teams to watch at the outset of the ATP Cup. But don’t be surprised if Croatia is nipping at their heels in the odds, once they come out. Bookie sites online will likely be posting their ATP Cup odds as soon as the tournament field is rounded out, and frankly if anyone but Croatia is given the third-best odds to win, it will be a surprise. The team is expected to be comprised of Borna Coric and Marin Cilic – currently 15th and 23rd in the world, respectively – which makes for one of the most balanced and talented duos in the field. Each player can beat anyone in the world on a good day, and in doubles they make for a fascinating blend of skill and experience. This team will be fun to watch.
Italy is an interesting case in that the team looks a great deal stronger now than it would have a month ago. Currently, Fabio Fognini and Matteo Berrettini are ranked 11th and 13th in the world. Tennis fans know Fognini as a player often ranked in the teens, perfectly capable of taking down top-10 players but equally likely to be upset. But it’s Berrettini who will be drawing a lot of eyes. The sudden up-and-comer blasted through the U.S. Open field en route to a semifinal loss to Nadal, but acquitted himself extremely well even in that loss. If he can stay hot through the turn to 2020, this will be a dangerous duo.
The Canadian team may have the broadest spectrum of potential outcomes, at least on paper. 21st-ranked 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime will be the team’s top seed, and fans shouldn’t sleep on him. He was bounced in the U.S. Open’s first round, but all in all has had an excellent 2019 season, and could be ready for a breakout. Meanwhile, veteran Milos Raonic (ranked 24th) will join Auger-Aliassime as he tries to return to top-10 form. In short, if Auger-Aliassime is ready to break out and Raonic is healthy and in form, this team has the talent to win it all. But it seems just as likely that things go the other way.
As the host nation, Australia get an automatic entry into the field, but rest assured this team would be good enough to compete regardless. For all his distractions and antics, team number 1 Nick Kyrgios remains about as talented as anyone in the ATP. And his 20-year-old teammate Alex de Minaur is up to 31st in the world and climbing. Both played quite well at the U.S. Open, and they should get a boost playing this event on their home turf as well. This team won’t be favored to win it all, but a deep run shouldn’t surprise anybody.
Beyond these teams there are plenty more that are intriguing. The U.S. could be dangerous with the right combination of players, though Frances Tiafoe might have to make a run for the Americans to really compete (and right now he’s not listed on the team). The Swiss could be the overall favorite if Stanislas Wawrinka joined Roger Federer, but as of now it looks like Federer will instead be paired with 110th-ranked Henri Laaksonen. And with Andy Murray having added the event to his schedule, the UK will be a team to watch. If he’s anywhere near his old self, Murray can do damage alongside 32nd-ranked Kyle Edmund.
Hopefully this has gotten you excited for the tournament. We’ll learn more about the field in the weeks and months ahead, but this already sounds like a blast.