The inaugural ATP Cup served up some superb matches in 2020, and will feature as the curtain-raiser for the long-awaited 2021 season when it starts in Melbourne on February 1.
The event features 13 of the top 15 players in the world, with world No 1 Novak Djokovic looking to help Serbia defend their title and Rafael Nadal's Spain looking to go one better after losing in the final.
With the groups now revealed, which matches are we most looking forward to?
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Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Rafael Nadal
Maybe the standout match of the group stage, Tsitsipas had plenty of Greek support at last year’s ATP Cup but only registered one victory.
There’s plenty of pressure on the 22-year-old to deliver with none of his team-mates ranked above 450 in the world, and he has shown that he can compete with the best in the world on his day. But can he start doing it when not playing his best?
Even though he has only won one of seven matches against Nadal, three of the last four have gone to a deciding set and this tie should feature plenty of exciting exchanges.
Nadal helped take Spain to the finals last year and will be hoping to start the season strongly as he aims for success at the Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic vs Alexander Zverev
The world No 1 against the world No 7.
Zverev won two of his first three meetings against Djokovic but has lost the last three, including a straight-sets defeat at last year’s ATP Finals. He had a terrible ATP Cup in 2020 as he only won one set in three matches, so should be eager to make a better start to the year this time around.
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But where will his game be with plenty happening off the court? He has split with coach David Ferrer, has parted with Roger Federer’s Team8 agency, is set to become a dad soon, and will likely be asked again about the domestic abuse allegations against him, which he has strongly denied.
Djokovic was unbeaten at the ATP Cup in 2020 and will be hoping for a strong start to the season after fading slightly towards the back end of last year.
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Daniil Medvedev vs Diego Schwartzman
This was one of the spicier matches at last year’s ATP Cup.
Medvedev was given code violations for unsportsmanlike conduct and also celebrated in front of Schwartzman, while there was also a heated exchange at the net at the end of the first set.
Schwartzman said that Russia captain Marat Safin apologised for Medvedev’s behaviour and the Argentine also revealed that he called him a “fool” during the match.
Daniil Medvedev et Diego Schwartzman lors de l'ATP Cup.
Image credit: Getty Images
"I told Medvedev at the net that he is a great player, but as a person needs to change a lot," added Schwartzman. "He is very disrespectful on the court and does things that he doesn’t need to do."
Medvedev won the match in three sets and has won both of their meetings since to improve his head-to-head record against Schwartzman to 5-0. Can the Argentine gain some revenge this year?
Alex de Minaur vs Rafael Nadal
These two produced one of the best matches of last year’s ATP Cup as Nadal battled back from a set down to beat De Minaur and clinch Spain’s place in the final.
De Minaur came out with an aggressive approach that saw him go toe-to-toe with Nadal until a crucial break at 6-5 earned the Spaniard the second set. The third set was less of a contest as Nadal won it for the loss of just one game.
De Minaur has high hopes for this season after starting with a title in Antalya Open and hopes to be able to beat the best in the world.
“I feel I’ve improved everything,” he said after his win in Turkey.
I’ve worked on the body and mind to take it to the top guys, which is my goal. Being able to push them and getting stronger is my goal. I don’t want to have a good result every now and then. I want good results every week. I may lose to the top guys, because they are too good, but I don't want to have any bad losses.
This will be an excellent early test to see how much De Minaur has improved in the off-season.
Dominic Thiem vs Gael Monfils
Group C, with Austria, France and Italy, is one of the more difficult to predict, so there should be plenty at stake in most matches.
Thiem lost two of his three matches at last year’s ATP Cup, but his season only got better from there as he reached the final of the Australian Open and won his first Grand Slam at the US Open.
There’s high expectations that he will be able to challenge for the top prizes again this year and this should be an entertaining match if both players are on their game, even if the rivalry has been one-sided so far with Thiem winning all six of his completed matches against the always-entertaining Monfils.
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