After two weeks of quarantine, tennis is set to return to the world stage in Australia. There will be a few events all simultaneously underway, so there will be no shortage of action on hand. Arguably the most intriguing of the lot though will be the ATP Cup, trimmed down to a reduced format for this season, which features many of the sport’s top players. It might just provide an early indication of what fans can expect at both the Australian Open and in the months to come.
The headliners at this event are Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, ranked one and two respectively. Now, veterans of the game, the heaviest expectations will be on their shoulders to try and lead their teams to the final. Folks are expecting a showdown in the championship match as a precursor for what many believe could be the title match a couple of weeks later at the year’s first major.
Djokovic and Nadal will have their work cut out for them if such an anticipated match were to take place, however. Also in the field are Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev – who met in the ATP Finals after upsetting Djokovic and Nadal – as well as Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, and Stefanos Tsitsipas among others. The young guns have steadily been making inroads against the stalwarts of the game, and no doubt they will b eager to set the tone early that they are going to further chip away at the iron grip members of the Big 3 have had in tennis. A strong showing here would go a long way towards setting them up for success at the Australian Open, especially if they get a crack at one of the top seeds in this team competition.
The natural struggle for dominance and momentum among these fierce competitors typically generates plenty of interest alone, but now there might also be some with chips on their shoulders to make for an added layer of intrigue.
It has been no secret that although there has been no tennis in the last two weeks, there has not been a shortage of drama. Stuck in varying levels of quarantine, tempers have run short and words have been exchanged. Djokovic found himself on defense after being accused of making demands to circumvent quarantine protocols – a situation that both he and Craig Tiley have suggested was misconstrued. Other players came to the Serb’s defense, expressing that they appreciated him speaking on their behalf and subsequently accusing Nadal and Thiem of being silent on the plight of other players. This in turn led Nadal to defend his own actions insisting he had worked on behalf of other players behind closed doors while simultaneously painting Djokovic in an unfavorable light (albeit never mentioning the Serb by name) for making his own actions public.
It is not surprising that this kind of sniping might arise, as emotions are going to run high under the circumstances, even as everyone knows there is no perfect solution that will completely level the playing field for all involved. That said these recent verbal exchanges do add a certain edge to the rivalries as the combatants prepare to do battle.
So the stage is set for an enthralling second edition of the ATP Cup. A coveted team title is at stake, but so is the chance to start the year on a high note heading into one of the most prestigious events on the calendar. It could set the tone early as far as whether fans can expect business as usual from the Big 3 or if the next generation might just be ready to more consistently knock them off of their lofty perches. Either way, it is sure to be exciting!