After a two-week break, the ATP Tour returns to action with a packed schedule in Melbourne. The leading stars of the ATP Tour will compete across three tournaments in Victoria, with the ATP Cup and two ATP 250 events on the calendar.
At the ATP Cup, 15 of the Top 17 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings will compete for their nation. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev lead their countries, with each of the four group champions advancing to the semi-finals.
At the Great Ocean Road Open, Top 20 stars David Goffin and Karen Khachanov will each attempt to lift their fifth ATP Tour crowns. Delray Beach champion Hubert Hurkacz and #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner will also feature in the draw.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka headlines the Murray River Open. The 2014 Australian Open titlist is joined at the ATP 250 by Grigor Dimitrov, #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and home favourite Nick Kyrgios.
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FIVE THINGS TO WATCH AT THE ATP CUP
1) Defending Champion: Serbia will seek its second ATP Cup trophy this year. The inaugural champion won all six ties it contested at the 2020 edition of the event, with wins against Canada, Russia and Spain in the knockout stages.
Across singles and doubles, Djokovic owns an 8-0 record at the innovative team event. Dusan Lajovic, Serbia’s No. 2 singles player, finished the tournament with a 4-2 record. Both men will return for this year’s competition, as Serbia headlines Group A alongside Canada and Germany.
2) Spain Returns: After coming within one victory of the trophy last year, Spain returns in 2021 with another strong team roster. The 2020 runner-up nation compiled a 5-1 tie record last year, which included wins against Belgium and Australia in the knockout rounds.
Nadal will lead his nation for the second time, after winning six of his eight matches at the tournament last year. The 20-time Grand Slam champion will be joined by Roberto Bautista Agut — who did not drop a set at last year’s tournament — Pablo Carreno Busta and Marcel Granollers. Spain meets Greece and Australia in Group B.
3) Doubles Deciders: At the ATP Cup, it pays to have doubles experience in your team. At last year’s event, 14 ties were won in deciding doubles matches, including Serbia’s 2-1 final victory against Spain.
This year’s tournament will feature some of the leading doubles stars on the ATP Tour. Germany can rely on two-time Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, while France will utilise the experience of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Last year’s Nitto ATP Finals qualifiers Granollers (Spain), Horacio Zeballos (Argentina) and John Peers (Australia) will also feature in Melbourne.
4) Thiem, Medvedev Lead Their Nations: Thiem and Medvedev, who both contested the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals championship match, will aim to carry their momentum into 2021 with success at the ATP Cup. World No. 3 Thiem leads Austria in Group C, where he will face Matteo Berrettini (Italy) and Gael Monfils (France) in singles action.
Medvedev returns as the No. 1 singles star for 2020 semi-finalist Russia in Group D. The World No. 4 will meet Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) and Kei Nishikori (Japan) in his singles matches.
5) No. 2 Stars: The importance of a strong second singles player cannot be underestimated at the ATP Cup. Each tie at the event begins with No. 2 singles action, giving No. 2 singles players the unique opportunity to set the tone of each tie and place their nation one win from victory.
Lajovic and Bautista Agut, who played in the No. 2 position for finalists Serbia and Spain last year, finished the tournament with a combined 10-2 singles record. One of those losses was due to their meeting in the championship match, which Bautista Agut won in straight sets. World No. 8 Andrey Rublev and Top 20 stars Bautista Agut, Milos Raonic and Fabio Fognini will all compete in the No. 2 singles position this year.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH AT THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD OPEN
1) Headline Acts: Throughout the 2020 ATP Tour season, Goffin reached one semi-final. The Belgian equalled that mark in the first week of his 2021 campaign with a run to the Antalya Open semi-finals (l. to De Minaur). The World No. 14 will attempt to reach his first championship match since the 2019 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Second seed Khachanov, who claimed four consecutive wins to open his 2020 season, will be aiming to repeat that feat in 2021 and advance to his first ATP Tour final since his title run at the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters.
2) Polish Power: While many players will be making their first appearances of the season in Melbourne, Hurkacz has already lifted a title this year. The 23-year-old did not drop a set in Delray Beach en route to his second ATP Tour crown. Hurkacz clinched the trophy with a 6-3, 6-3 win against #NextGenATP American Sebastian Korda.
3) Sinner’s Surge: Two years ago, Jannik Sinner was aiming to crack the Top 500 for the first time. The #NextGenATP Italian has since captured the Next Gen ATP Finals crown (2019) and his maiden ATP Tour title in Sofia (2020) to rise to a career-high No. 36. The youngest player in the Top 100 will look to continue his rise in 2021 with a fast start in Melbourne.
4) Back In Business: After undergoing right knee surgery in February 2020, Kevin Anderson showed glimpses of his best form towards the end of the season with runs to the Erste Bank Open semi-finals and Roland Garros third round. The South African will be aiming to continue that progress in Melbourne, where he will attempt to win an ATP Tour title in his opening tournament of the year for the second time (2019 Pune).
5) Colombians Headline: Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah lead the way in the Great Ocean Road Open doubles draw. The top seeds, who clinched the year-end No. 1 FedEx ATP Doubles Team Ranking in 2019, share the top half of the draw with fourth seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Henri Kontinen. Herbert and Kontinen could face singles stars Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner in their first match.
In the bottom half of the draw, Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares will start the second chapter of their partnership. The 2016 Australian Open and US Open champions could meet Antalya finalists Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek in the semi-finals.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH AT THE MURRAY RIVER OPEN
1) Strong Starter: Stan Wawrinka has won 16 tour-level titles throughout his career. This Swiss lifted four of those trophies in his first event of the year (2011, ’14-’16). Wawrinka, the top seed at the Murray River Open, will attempt to add to that record at the site of his maiden Grand Slam triumph in 2014.
2) Grigor’s Momentum: The Bulgarian reached the quarter-finals or better at his final four ATP Tour events of 2020 and also advanced to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros for the first time. Dimitrov will be able to draw confidence from memories of past success in Australia. The 29-year-old lifted the Brisbane trophy and reached the Australian Open semi-finals in 2017.
3) First Title For Felix?: Over the past two ATP Tour seasons, Felix Auger-Aliassime has finished as a runner-up at six tour-level events. The #NextGenATP Canadian, who won 22 hard court matches and reached three finals on the surface last year, will attempt to capture his first ATP Tour crown in Melbourne. Auger-Aliassime prepared for his 2021 campaign with a visit to the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca, where he set his sights on a place in the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and a qualification spot at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
4) Kyrgios Returns: For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Nick Kyrgios will compete on the ATP Tour. The 25-year-old, who did not to return to action when play resumed in 2020, will make his first appearance since the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in February last year. Kyrgios will be aiming to lift his second ATP Tour title on home soil. The Aussie defeated defending champion Dimitrov en route to the 2018 Brisbane crown.
5) New Partnerships: Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic will attempt to lift their second title of the year at the Murray River Open. The all-Croatian pair, which claimed its maiden trophy on its team debut at the Antalya Open earlier this month, are joined in the top half of the draw by another new partnership: Marcelo Melo and Horia Tecau.
Second seeds Wesley Koolhof and Lukasz Kubot will also make their team debut in Melbourne. The second seeds share the bottom half of the draw with third seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury. Ram and Salisbury claimed the biggest title of their careers in Melbourne last year, when they dropped just one set en route to the Australian Open title.