Alexander Zverev is hoping to perform better for Germany at the ATP Cup, which begins on 2 February in Melbourne. Having gone 0-3 after facing three Top 20 opponents in the tournament last year, the 23-year-old is looking to deliver against Group A opponents Serbia, the defending champion, and Canada.

“I’ve been working extremely hard in the off-season,” said Zverev. “I’d like to think that I did everything I could to be as well-prepared as I can be… I definitely want to perform better for my team, for myself. [I want to] give ourselves the best chance that we can to go deep here.”

Zverev’s path to a first ATP Cup victory is no easier this year. The 13-time ATP Tour titlist will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Denis Shapovalov — one of the three men he lost to in last year’s tournament — in Group A.

“We’ll know exactly where I’m at, know exactly how my level is, know exactly what I need to improve still,” said Zverev. “There are no easy matches. I think that just shows at the ATP Cup.”

Regardless of results, one of the most exciting elements of this competition will be the return of packed crowds in Melbourne. Zverev took the chance to praise Australia’s successful approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and shared his excitement to perform in front of full stands for the first time in almost a year.

“Tennis Australia did a great job for us tennis players to still be able to feel like we can practise, we can prepare for a Grand Slam. Hopefully, we can show our best tennis,” said Zverev. “I think Australia has been dealing with coronavirus the best that any country has in the world. Being able to play in front of a crowd, not living in a bubble now during the tournament, I think a lot of players really appreciate that.”

Ahead of the 2021 ATP Tour season, Zverev parted ways with coach David Ferrer. The Spaniard began working with Zverev in July last year, prior to the 6’6” right-hander’s run to his maiden Grand Slam final at the US Open. Zverev will continue to work with his father, Alexander Zverev Sr. and receive support from his brother and former Top 30 player Mischa Zverev.

“I think we left everything open with David. I think with my dad and with my brother, Mischa, who was with me during the US Open, more involved now, I have a great coaching team,” said Zverev. “I think I can win big tournaments with the coaching staff that I have.”

Mischa will play an integral role at this year’s ATP Cup. Not only will he support his brother, he will lead his nation as Captain. The 2017 Australian Open quarter-finalist emphasised the importance of team spirit ahead of Germany’s first tie against Canada on Day 2.

“It’s a unique experience… I hope we can, first of all, have a good time together as a team and win some matches,” said Zverev. “I think the biggest challenge for every captain is to create a team spirit so that every member of the team is really feeling like they’re an important part of the whole ensemble. We go out there, we win together, we lose together, but at the end of the day we still have dinner as a team and we can still smile and laugh and get ready for the next days.”

With two wins from three matches, Jan-Lennard Struff was Germany’s most successful player at last year’s ATP Cup. The German returns this year as the No. 2 singles player and will open Germany’s Group A ties with matches against Dusan Lajovic and Milos Raonic.

“I’m really excited. It was a very good event last year. It was beautiful to start the year off with such a nice event,” said Struff. “I’m very happy to be able to participate this year again. It’s a privilege to be here. It’s an honour to play for my country again. It’s going to be very challenging. We have a tough group.”

If Zverev and Struff claim one victory from the opening two matches of the tie, the fate of Germany will rest in experienced hands. For the second straight year, two-time Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies will represent their country in Australia.

Last year, Krawietz and Mies claimed one win from three doubles encounters. Mies is confident that the pair can improve on that record in 2021 and do their part to provide Germany with a better chance of reaching the knockout stage.

“I don’t think it’s extra pressure. We’ve been in the situation before… I think we had a good pre-season. We’re ready to play,” said Mies. “We know the situation. We know if it’s 1-all, it comes down to us. We feel confident. I think we’re a great team. We hope for the best. I think we underperformed a little bit last year as a team, as a whole group. I thought Struff played extremely well. I think Sascha and me and Kevin, we can do a bit better this year.”