New ATP Cup Mostly Good, a Little Bad

Ever since I've been following tennis, the men's season began this calendar week with four events: one in Doha, one in Brisbane, one in India, and the unofficial but popular Hopman Cup in Perth, a national team event where men and women compete together.

Well, no more. The Hopman Cup and Brisbane event have been jettisoned, and the India event moved to later in the year. That leaves Doha and a new, ambitious event for the ATP tour, the ATP Cup.

The ATP Cup is like the Davis Cup in that it is a team event. It takes place in Perth, Brisbane, and Sydney (who also lost their standalone ATP event). The 24 teams/countries are simply based on the highest ranked singles player in that country. So if (such as the case with Greece, Georgia, and Moldova), you have one single player who is a high level tour pro, congrats, your country still qualifies.

I originally disliked that method of "qualification," but I have found it has its charms. The first is that, since there needs to be at least one other singles player per nation, guys ranked in the 400-500s in the world are getting their chance on the big stage. It's a nice underdog story and the underdogs are giving it their all and peeling off a set here and there from the heavy favorites and getting the crowds behind them.

The second advantage is for the guys who are elite and are the lone water carriers for their country. Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece looks like he's going to be a top 20 player for years and years to come, but the Davis Cup is never going to give him meaningful team tennis, because it's a yearlong qualification process and having one good player is not enough to get out of the qualification stage morasses of Davis Cup. So the ATP Cup gives these guys an opportunity to play meaningful team tennis representing their country.

Another advantage: the quality level is high and the players are taking it seriously. Roger Federer isn't here, but Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are, and they are (take it from someone whose watched a ton this week) giving it their all and not treating it like an exhibition.

Of particular interest to me has been Group F, consisting of Australia, Greece, Germany, and Canada. That grouping gives us a showcase of the next generation of men's tennis, poised to win slams after Nadal/Djokovic/Federer finally, finally, finally ride off into the sunset.

That means Tsitsipas, Denis Shapavalov of Canada, Alex Zverev of Germany, and Alex De Minaur of Australia are all battling against each other. All of them are 22 or under, and all of them are already ranked in the top 20 in the world. The matches they have produced have been epic, with De Minaur so far emerging as the cream of the crop. We'll see if he can keep it up in the playoff round, and we'll also see if he can keep it up without home country advantage over the course of the season and his career.

My one complaint is this: It's a damn shame that the Hopman Cup had to be axed to make room for this. No sport has tennis beat in terms of women garnering fame and fortune for their athletic endeavors, and the Hopman Cup, by bringing men and women together, was, in my eyes, a celebration of that. Now it's gone, and it seems ... curt that it was replaced by a mens-only event. I guess we will always have the Olympics and mixed doubles in Grand Slams.

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