The big names are in Australia to kick off the year with the first edition of the ATP Cup. Names on the entry list include Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Dimitrii Baskov and Herman Hoeyeraal to name a few. The initial teams were stronger, prior to Roger Federer, Matteo Berrettini, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori withdrawing due to injury.
A lot of time and money has been invested into the ATP Cup, set to take place between January 3-12 this year, spanning across Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. The first thing the ATP Cup website wants to let you know about the tournament is there is a lot of money on the line.
“The ATP Cup is an annual 24-country team competition featuring AU$22 million / US$15 million prize money and a maximum of 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP Rankings points. ATP is staging the event in partnership with Tennis Australia.”
As a result, the Australian schedule has lost men’s tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, as well as the Hopman Cup Exhibition tournament in Perth. A tournament in Adelaide has been added to the calendar, meaning there is one opportunity for Australian men to make an impact at the top level in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
Money has been splashed everywhere, and it is a great result for everyone involved in developing a new tournament. The question from my end is: How will Tennis Australia support the Australian men who will miss out on previously available opportunities as a result of the ATP Cup?
Let’s look at what has changed this year.
In 2018, across ATP Brisbane and ATP Sydney, 22 spots amongst qualifying and main draws were filled by Australians, 10 as a result of wildcards. Think back to the impressive efforts of Alex De Minaur in 2017 as an example of what can come from such an opportunity. As a young up-and-coming tennis player, De Minaur was granted a wildcard in Brisbane, with his performance leading to a spot in the main draw in Sydney a week later.
These 22 opportunities are now crammed into the Adelaide tournament. The current main draw cut-off is 55 (Gilles Simon), resulting in less Australians reaching the main draw directly. Alex De Minaur is the only Australian in the main draw based on his ranking. The trickle-down impact of this results in only a handful of Australians playing ATP level tennis in January. It was announced that fellow top-100 players Jordan Thompson and Alexei Popyrin have received wildcards, whilst potential qualifiers Andrew Harris and Marc Polmans would have to bypass the Australian Open qualifying draw (unless granted main draw wildcards) if successful in reaching the main draw. The Aussies in the Top-100 aren’t impacted by the changes, it is felt by those on the cusp.
There is only one Challenger event in Australia (Canberra) that takes place in the lead-up to the Australian Open, that doesn’t clash with Australian Open qualifying. That means the draw is understandably stacked, which is great for those watching, but not so great for Australians looking for their break. In Canberra, Marc Polmans and Andrew Harris are the two players who have qualified for the main draw. If they were to reach the final 4 in Canberra, they would need to decide between a weekend in Canberra or qualifying in Adelaide; a tough decision given their current rankings and Top-100 aspirations.
If you thought the ATP was already top-heavy, the ATP Cup won’t help. I hope for their sake people turn up. The fact I can find 19 seats side-by-side for ATP Cup sessions a couple of days out makes me think there may be some very empty sessions.
When you find yourself watching the ATP Cup in January, please spare a thought for the players who are likely to miss out on opportunities as a result. Players like Purcell, Alex Bolt’s, Matt Ebden, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Jason Kubler and Akira Santillan, who are likely to struggle to make an impact prior to the Australian Open Qualifying without a bit of luck or a Challenger wildcard. Whilst money is splashed at the top, don’t forget about the Aussies.