ATP Cup adds to crowded tennis dates before Australian Open

Roger Federer won’t be playing until the Australian Open, but the the summer of tennis Down Under ahead of the first Grand Slam of 2020 will be a little more hectic for everybody else.

Kicking off on Friday with the start of the new 24-team, Davis Cup-style ATP Cup in three cities across Australia, players will have a host of options to them on both the ATP and WTA tours.

Federer and Switzerland aren’t involved in the ATP Cup, but No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will be representing Spain and Serbia, respectively. No. 3 Federer wants to spend more time with his family before the start of the Australian Open on Jan. 20 in Melbourne.

When the ATP Cup concludes on Jan. 12, Djokovic is scheduled to play at the Adelaide International, a joint ATP-WTA tournament that includes world No. 1 women’s player Ash Barty of Australia. Also in that week across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand will be the ATP’s Auckland Open.

The Brisbane International, formerly a joint ATP-WTA event, will be a women’s only tournament this year with hometown star Barty among a group of headliners also including Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, beginning next Monday.

Venus Williams, who had been given a wild card for Brisbane, pulled out with an undisclosed training “setback”on Wednesday. She still hopes to play in Adelaide.

Also on the WTA Tour, the ASB Classic next week has secured a bit of a coup with Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, who will retire after the Australian Open, scheduled to attend and play singles as well as doubles together in New Zealand. The Hobart International will be played the same week in Australia.

The 38-year-old Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, is the only one of the top seven players in the men’s rankings who will not be competing in the 10-day ATP Cup in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney.

“He’s made the decision to spend some time with his family and he’s obviously a lot more conscious of how much he’s playing (as he gets older),” ATP Cup tournament director Tom Larner told the Australian Associated Press. “For everything Roger has given to the sport we’re accepting of that.”

Andy Murray will not be appearing for Britain, withdrawing following an injury setback after his return from hip surgery.

Australia will play in Brisbane with Germany, Greece and Canada. In the other Brisbane group it’s Serbia, France, South Africa and Chile. In Sydney, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria and Molodova comprise one group while the other contains Argentina, Austria, Croatia and Poland. Perth hosts the United States, Russia, Italy and Norway and another group comprising Spain, Japan, Uruguay and Georgia.

Kei Nishikori withdrew from the Japan team for the ATP Cup and from the Australian Open.

“I am still not 100% ready to compete at the highest level,” Nishikori said. He has not competed since the U.S. Open because of a right elbow injury that required surgery in October.

There are a number of innovations to be provided at the ATP Cup, including Team Zones, which will replace the player chairs near the umpire, and on-court coaching where the captain, coaches and players can offer input.

Each encounter will be best-of-three, three-set matches — two singles and a doubles. The six group winners plus two second-place countries go through to the final series in Sydney beginning Jan. 9.

World No. 15-ranked Denis Shapovalov, a member of the Canadian team which opens against Greece on Friday, questioned the timing of the ATP Cup so close to last year’s new format for the Davis Cup, the long-standing men’s international team competition. On Nov. 24, Nadal beat Shapovalov to clinch the Davis Cup for Spain in Madrid.

The 20-year-old Shapovalov said ideally there would be only one “world championship” of tennis.

“I think it is a little bit strange to have it at a similar time as Davis Cup,” he said. “It would be great just to have one event that is a world championship. It is a weird feeling playing a world championships then coming into another event that is pretty much the same thing. We will see how it pans out.”

There’s no question in Nadal’s mind about his objective for the new event.

“It’s a tournament that we want to compete well in, and then we’ll have a week before the Australian Open for me personally to practice and for some of the others to play in Auckland or Adelaide,” he said. “So we are very focused on trying to be ready for this competition.

“We are a team that gives the maximum.”

To add some extra appeal at the Auckland WTA event, longtime friends Serena Williams and Wozniacki will play doubles together for the first time. Former No. 1 Wozniacki who has started her season in Auckland every year since 2015, has made the hardcourt tournament the first stop of her short farewell tour.

The 29-year-old Wozniacki was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after she won the 2018 Australian Open and will retire from tennis after playing at Melbourne Park this month.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion and who was recently named the AP Female Athlete of the Decade, has not played doubles with anyone other than her sister, Venus, since the Fed Cup World Group playoff in 2015. Her last WTA tournament in doubles without Venus was in 2002.

By the time the weekend of Feb. 1 and 2 rolls around — the finals of the women’s and men’s singles championship at the Australian Open — the victors may not have been the ones who played best during the two weeks at Melbourne Park, but those who best managed the fast-paced tournament schedule leading up to it.

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