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Opinion

The ATP Cup washup

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Roar Rookie
13th January, 2020
3

As an outsider looking in during the last week, the ATP Cup has seemed like a huge success.

But it won’t be until the dust has settled on the Australian summer of tennis that we will gain a better indication of how it will be embraced by players and public in the years ahead.

The ATP Cup has come hot on the heels of the revamped Davis Cup, and while both are fairly similar, there are some differences in how it has been run. My takes on the ATP Cup, both good and bad, are as follows:

The good:
Big crowds and electric atmospheres at the pointy end of the tournament, and not just while Australia was competing. The Serbian fans came out in force for the finals, and even Rafael Nadal seemed surprised that it felt like a Serbian home tie. This was a big difference to the Davis Cup, which lacked atmosphere outside of the Spanish matches.

The bad:
Early rounds were not well attended, and quite often stadiums were not even half full. Organisers are reported to have given away plenty of free tickets, but even so, it took a while for the tournament to build.

The good:
The top players in the world were on show during the first week of the season, and some of the tennis was quite extraordinary. The Novak Djokovic versus Daniil Medvedev match should go down among the top matches of 2020 by the time we reach the end of the year.

Not to be forgotten, some of the deciding doubles matches were every bit as exciting, if not more, than the singles. Seeing the passion of Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur taking out the marathon deciding tie-break against Great Britain was evidence of the emotional buy-in from some of the top athletes in the world.

The bad:
While a bunch of the top players may have been there, some of the supporting cast was a little weak – at least on paper. The ATP Cup differs to the Davis Cup in that a country could participate if their number one player was ranked high enough.

This created some huge inequalities. For instance, France has 12 players and Spain has ten players in the top 100, but only five are chosen to be in the squad. At the other end, we had Greece, who had Stefanos Tsitsipas ranked six, with their next best player ranked barely in the top 500, or Moldova, with Radu Albot ranked 46, but his compatriot Alexander Cozbinov, ranked 818.

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This is not a great format for competitive matches, nor big audiences.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The good:
For the players that did compete, they receive plenty of prize money and a lot of ATP ranking points, which they don’t receive from playing in the Davis Cup. Clearly, for the ATP Cup to work, this was the only way to attract the best in the world.

And it worked. For the lower-ranked players, this was a huge opportunity to make more money and points in one week than they had in their entire career.

The bad:
Although it was a good move to add rankings points for the week, the big issue for the players not competing is that the ATP have essentially allowed the participants to add all points earned during the ATP Cup as extra on top of their other tournaments.

In a nutshell, every player counts their best 18 tournament results to achieve their ranking. However, now, we have a selection of players who can use a 19th tournament, creating quite a big inequality and a lot of disdain among the players who couldn’t qualify.

On top of this, those mid-tier players are now lacking tournament practice before the Australian Open, as the traditional Brisbane and Sydney tournaments have been ditched. These are issues that must be looked at going forward.

Overall, the ATP Cup has been a bigger success than I expected, but as with all new events, there are improvements to be made.
The final question won’t be answered until after the Australian Open.

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Will the likes of Djokovic and Nadal benefit from some hard matches just a week out from the first major of the year? Or will Roger Federer and others have the upper hand from having more rest and practice time?

Time will tell.