The first edition of the ATP Cup is in the books. Carried by Novak Djokovic, Serbia emerged victorious in the final against Spain. But this article is not meant to congratulate the Serbians and thrash everyone else. Many individuals have reasons to be happy about their play in Australia. Contrarily, other players arrived with high expectations but are moving on to their next tournaments with clouds looming in the horizon.
Next up, the maiden ATP Cup Winners and Losers column.
Without a single doubt, the unanimous MVP of the tourney. His elbow bothered him during the group stage, he looked sloppy at times, he smashed a racket…whatever, didn’t matter. Djokovic went undefeated in singles, capping his spotless run with a 6-2 7-6 statement win over Rafael Nadal. Moreover, he also won the two doubles he disputed, including the title-clinching match. Not a bad ending for a player who boasts a career 53-71 tour-level record in doubles. Okay, he has probably partnered with his siblings Marko and Djordje in a few too many events, but he has never been considered a world-beater in dubs. It didn’t matter. He came through when Serbia needed it.
Honesty above all. When I first drafted this article in my head, I had originally expected to tab the Castellón native on the losers list. For a week, he coasted through the likes of Aleksandre Metreveli, Giorgio Tabacco, Franco Roncadelli, Go Soeda and Kimmer Coppejans (bonus points if you guess the bogus name I put on the list). Hence, I thought the gap between facing non-ATP competition and a streaking Nick Kyrgios would be too large. Well, Bautista vehemently proved me wrong, dismissing both the Aussie and the in-form Dusan Lajovic in straights. The Spaniard was unassailable in Sydney.
The Polish number 1 went winless in three doubles matches, costing his team a spot in the quarterfinals. However, his singles performances were extremely promising, collecting wins as an underdog versus Dominic Thiem, Borna Coric and Diego Schwartzman. Do not be surprised if the 22-year-old keeps surging up the rankings and puts together a breakout season similar to Matteo Berretini’s 2019.
Sure, he lost to Dan Evans, but he defeated two nemeses in Grigor Dimitrov and Nadal. The Bulgarian appeared ready to win his 12th match in 13 meetings in Sydney but the Belgian battled back to prevail 4-6 6-2 6-2. In the quarters, Goffin played a near-flawless match and upset the world’s top ranked player 6-4 7-6.
Tremendous confidence boost for the Norwegian on hard court. The 21-year-old struggled at the Next Gen Finals, but his offseason training with Nadal paid off at the ATP Cup. Ruud upended John Isner and Fabio Fognini. Besides, he lost 6-3 7-6 to Daniil Medvedev, which counts as a moral win. Not even the most die-hard, ill-informed character from Vikings would demand Ruud to win that match on hard.
Of all the players who shouldn’t be on the big stage second bananas of countries with just one Top 50 representative, Kuzmanov produced the best work. The former 16&Under No. 1 player in Europe (Dominic Thiem ended that season No. 17!), who has never sniffed the Top 200, handily defeated Steve Darcis and Alexander Cozbinov, plus he took a set from No. 53 Cameron Norrie. Due to these results, Kuzmanov earned 30 points, jumped 72 spots in the live rankings and received the fattest check of his pro career.
The Brit had a low-key super event, notching two Top 20 victories against Goffin and De Miñaur as well as an easy win over Radu Albot. His lone blemish, a three-set loss to Dimitrov, ended up not being consequential.
The revamped Davis Cup Finals and the ATP Cup have helped immensely. This format, in which the doubles point often decides the outcome of a tie, offers many benefits. Firstly, top players are way more involved. No matter what they say, most tour heavyweights only play doubles occasionally to get some rhythm or extra cash. At the ATP Cup, the intensity level was off the charts. Secondly, doubles specialists, who in many cases are former college tennis stars, get to share the spotlight. At tour events or majors, doubles will always play second fiddle. Lastly, these matchups featuring top singles guys and textbook dubs proponents are riveting. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen came an inch away from beating the Nadal/Pablo Carreño duo in the quarters. The previous day, Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury were an unreal miss away from defeating Kyrgios and De Miñaur. It was a pleasure to watch those opposite styles go toe-to-toe.
Honorable Mention: Denis Shapovalov, Daniil Medvedev, Yoshihito Nishioka
The German is the only right choice for the unofficial ATP Cup LVP Award (L for Least, obviously). Behavioral missteps aside, he better hire a magician who can delete this week from his memory. The former No. 3 was up 6-4 4-2 in his debut against De Minaur, whom he had always beaten, but the Aussie ended up turning the duel around. A dramatic freefall ensued, as Stefanos Tsitsipas (6-1 6-4) and Denis Shapovalov (6-2 6-2) flat out demolished him. Zverev couldn’t make a serve to save his life. His exhibition tour with Roger Federer surely helped his bank account; not his game. As a tennis fan, I hope he can regain his form soon.
Not an encouraging way to start the season for the 19-year-old Canadian. The youngest member of the Top 30 lost three consecutive matches in straights to John Millman, Jan-Lennard Struff and Dusan Lajovic. All tough rivals, of course, but the expectations were higher for Auger-Aliassime. He’s young and will certainly figure it out. Nobody said the journey to greatness was easy.
In 2019, the Austrian came along nicely on hard courts, winning Indian Wells, Beijing and Vienna. In November, he was ATP Finals runner up, upsetting both Djokovic and Federer In London. Hence, his losses Down Under to the aforementioned Hurcakz and Coric booked him a seat on the losers table. I’m still not convinced he’s a threat to win a Slam off of clay, as I explained on this Twitter rant.
The Chilean arrived to Australia immersed in a 9-match losing streak, dating back to the Jurassic period his Bastad title in July. After bending the knee to Benoit Paire, Lloyd George Harris and Dusan Lajovic he extended his skid to twelve matches.
Note: Jarry finally won a match! John-Patrick Smith was his victim in Adelaide. Nevertheless, the Chilean flopped again in the final round of qualifying versus Tommy Paul.
The NextGen seems focused on laying waste to this term. The ATP Cup was an absolute abomination in the behavioral department. Shattering rackets is the least of the problems. At least companies get free publicity. Actually, if you’re on probation, smashing a racket is not the wisest move, Nick.
Stefanos Tsitsipas mistakenly slapped his father, Zverev made his dad cry, Daniil Medvedev hit the umpire chair twice, Pablo Cuevas threatened to leave the court and then acted like a Game of Thrones buffoon during a meaningless match…what is going on? Get it together, guys!
Honorable mention: John Isner, Pablo Cuevas, Stefanos Tsitsipas
Do you agree or disagree with the players listed? Let us know on the comment section below.