One of the highlights of the tennis world, the ATP Cup 2021 will be kick-starting the men’s season when it begins on 1st February. This year’s event will be played at Melbourne Park in Australia, amid strict Covid-19 protocols to ensure it can go ahead.
In normal years, the ATP Cup is a 24-team competition played across three Australian cities. With prize money of £5.5 million, this year it has been reduced to 12 teams playing at one venue. It will provide a welcome relief for tennis fans after the disruptions of the 2020 season.
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ATP Cup history
The new tennis tournament, the ATP Cup, was announced on 2nd July 2018, when Chris Kermode, the ATP director, revealed his plans for a men’s team tennis championship. He announced the new team event six months after the Davis Cup organisers changed their format.
Mr Kermode called it World Team Cup at first, named after a previous tournament of the same name that was held annually in Düsseldorf, from 1978 to 2012. However, on 15th November 2018, the ATP and Tennis Australia announced the new championship was to be renamed the ATP Cup.
The first event featured 24 teams playing across three Australian cities; Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. It is seen as good preparation for the Australian Open. Players can earn up to 500 singles and 250 doubles points to improve their FedEx ATP Rankings.
How will this year’s event differ?
Apart from halving the number of teams taking part, due to the coronavirus safety procedures, all matches at the event, between 1st and 5th February, will be played at Melbourne Park – home of the Australian Open since 1988.
The draw is scheduled to take place on 20th January 2021. Competing teams will be divided into four round-robin groups and the winner of each group will go on to the semi-final. Qualification is based on the country’s top player’s ranking.
Unfortunately, Britain didn’t qualify this year. Australia has been included on a wildcard entry as the host, while other nations taking part include Greece, Austria, Russia, Spain, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Argentina, France, Japan and Canada.
The prize money is in three different components including a fee for participating, the prize money for individual match winner and prize money for tied victories.
Players must have a Covid-19 test two days before their flight and will have five tests during a 14-day quarantine period. They will then be free to stay in Melbourne but must adhere to the city’s protocols.
The subject of spectators seems to be a grey area at present, although it is likely the tournament will be played behind closed doors, rather than with a limited number of socially distanced spectators. On the ATP website, on the “ticket information” tab, it suggests checking back later for further information.
Which top players will take part?
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are set to return for the men’s team tennis season opener. Djokovic and Team Serbia will be defending their ATP Cup title, after beating Nadal and Team Spain in the 2020 final at the Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.
Djokovic, 33, is currently ranked the world number one by the Association of Tennis Professionals, while 34-year-old Nadal is world number two.
The tournament promises a treat for armchair spectators, who will be able to watch on TV, with various broadcasters including ESPN International, Eurosport and Amazon Prime Video doing the honours between 1st to 5th February.
Although tennis clubs in England are closed to the general public at present, it is hoped the Covid-19 vaccine will help bring the pandemic to an end. The Lawn Tennis Association has also urged the government to look again at opening tennis facilities as soon as possible, as sports are vital to people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
The LTA points out tennis is a socially distanced sport by nature and speaks of the tennis community’s “disappointment” that it has again been suspended under the government’s national lockdown restrictions.