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Ricky’s Preview and Picks for the ATP Cup Tennis • Russia on the Rise with Medevedev and Rublev

Daniil Medvedev (L) takes a selfie of Team Russia after winning Group D during the 2020 ATP Cup tennis tournament at RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. EPA-EFE/RICHARD WAINWRIGHT

By Ricky Dimon

Action in Melbourne is already underway and the second annual ATP Cup will join the festivities starting on Tuesday.

It is a scaled-down version because of time and location constraints, from 24 teams to 12, six groups to four, and three cities to one. Instead of eight countries advancing out of group-stage competition to reach the quarterfinals, only four group winners will qualify straight into the semis. Despite the reorganization, the 2021 version of this team event promises to feature wild entertainment and a ton of high-quality tennis. After all, Novak Djokovic and defending champion Serbia are back along with Rafael Nadal and 2020 runner-up Spain. Russia, Canada, France, and host nation Australia could also contend.

Predictions

Group A
1. Canada
2. Serbia
3. Germany

Serbia is the favorite in Group A and perhaps even to win it all again, but Djokovic alone is not enough. The pressure will be on either Dusan Lajovic or Filip Krajinovic to provide the same kind of support that Lajovic gave in 2020. This draw isn’t easy; the Canadians are led by Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic, while Germany has Alexander Zverev, Jan-Lennard Struff, and the doubles duo of Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies.“It’s going to be great event,” Lajovic assured. “We have a tough group [and] tough matches right from the start. There is no room for any kind of mistakes. We’ve got to start strong. Hopefully, we can have a good tournament like last year. I believe that a lot of Serbian fans will come to support us, like last year. It’s going to be I think a great experience to feel that energy again.”

Given Canada’s singles strength with Shapovalov and Raonic, both Serbia and Germany could be in for a tough couple of days.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic leads defending ATP Cup champion Serbia. EPA-EFE/DAN HIMBRECHTS

Group B
1. Spain
2. Australia
3. Greece

Greece does not have enough behind Stefanos Tsitsipas to seriously compete with the other two teams in this group. That means it will come down to the Spain vs. Australia head-to-head matchup. Advantage: Spain. It probably wouldn’t even go to the doubles match, because singles is projected to be Nadal vs. Alex de Minaur and Roberto Bautista Agut vs. John Millman.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” said Spanish captain Pepe Vendrell. “We played last year against Australia. They are playing at home and they have the support of the crowd. But we are very excited to be here and to start the season playing against Australia in ATP Cup. In my opinion, Spain is a country that loves to play as a team. We have this culture since we were young… In ATP Cup, it’s a competition by teams. You play for your country. I think it’s a great experience for everyone.”

It was a good but not great experience for the 2019 Davis Cup champions last year Down Under. They came up one hurdle short. Doing one better in 2021 is by no means out of the question.

Rafael Nadal reacts during his final match against Novak Djokovic at the 2020 ATP Cup at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. EPA-EFE/CRAIG GOLDING

Group C
1. Italy
2. France
3. Austria

There are two Thiems on the Austrian team this time around. In addition to No. 1 player Dominic, the captain is Wolfgang–Dominic’s dad and Dennis Novak’s coach.

“It’s going to be cool I think, because we know each other for so long,” Novak said of the elder Thiem. “I think he knows me the best…and he knows Dominic also the best. I think it’s going to be a good combination.”

It almost certainly won’t be enough. Italy boasts Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini, while France is armed with Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire for singles in addition to the doubles pairing of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. The younger Thiem is capable of winning his singles matches, but it’s hard to see Austria getting any other points. Berrettini, Fognini, and doubles player Simone Bolelli may have the edge.

Fabio Fognini and Matteo Berrettini make Italy a formidable threat. EPA-EFE/LUKAS COCH

Group D
1. Russia
2. Argentina
3. Japan

Russia is absolutely loaded with both Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev on board. Last season the Russians rolled through their group with an undefeated record and eventually reached the semifinals before falling to Serbia. That was without Rublev, who was the ATP Tour’s breakout start in 2020. Now, of course, this team is even better.

“It’s going to be my first experience here,” Rublev noted. “It’s amazing to be part of with such a great guys…. I think we have a great team. You always have to be in reality and understand that all the players are playing so good. All the teams are strong. They have all the top players here. It’s going to be really tough.”

It shouldn’t get tough until at least the semis. Unless either Kei Nishikori or Diego Schwartzman does something seriously special, Japan and Argentina will be outclassed.

Semifinals: Russia over Canada and Spain over Italy

Final: Russia over Spain

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.