The 2020 tennis season is upon us! Andy Schooler delivers his ATP Cup betting verdict ahead of the start of the brand-new team event.
Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, Australia (outdoor hard)
The ATP season kicks off in a much different way in 2020 following the creation of the ATP Cup.
A team event, it is set to rival the Davis Cup Finals, which only took place six weeks ago in Madrid. The fact that two similar competitions are now on the calendar, particularly so close together, has caused much consternation.
There are some differences between the two events but many similarities.
Twenty-four teams (rather than 18) will contest the ATP Cup and ranking points will be on offer, unlike in the Davis Cup.
The format remains much the same – six groups of four with the winners and the two best runners-up progressing the knockout stage. Each tie will consist of two singles matches followed by a doubles rubber. Significantly, the latter will be decided by a champions’ tie-break, rather than a full final set as was the case in Madrid, if the opening two sets are shared.
How much does it matter?
Despite this, singles stars seem less likely to pay doubles here than they did in Madrid. While the ATP would tell you otherwise, this event is still effectively a warm-up tournament for the opening Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, which begins in just over a fortnight.
A feature of the Davis Cup Finals was the intensity players brought to the court. Many buried themselves in one final effort for the season but will they be prepared to do the same here, particularly in what can be brutal conditions? Some will but I suspect many won’t.
I believe that factor makes team depth more important than it was in Madrid. Both Canada and Russia made the last four there fielding only two of their five-man squad but a repeat of that seems less likely.
Another thing for punters to consider is that the surfaces at the three venues – Perth, Brisbane and Sydney (the knockout stages will be played at the latter) – are all new.
The PlexiCushion has been dug up and replaced by a Greenset surface. How fast it will play in each city remains to be seen but expect some complaints from players who struggle to adapt.
Time for a look at the six groups…
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic is the star of this group and he’ll be expected to win all of his singles matches but will he be prepared to play doubles too? That Australian Open is looming large and, somewhat surprisingly, Djokovic has committed to playing in Adelaide in the week following this event. Dusan Lajovic and Viktor Troicki, a player who has won titles in Australia in the past, are capable of winning singles matches so he will have support, but this is a tricky group.
South Africa, led by Kevin Anderson, and Chile, featuring Cristian Garin and Nicolas Jarry, probably won’t have enough to reach the quarter-finals but both could take rubbers off the higher-rated teams which means the team finishing second in the group may well be struggling to gain one of the two quarter-final spots reserved for runners-up.
France are the main threat to the Serbs, As ever, they have strength in depth with Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire and Gilles Simon all good singles options. Doubles expert Nicolas Mahut is also included but, unlike at the Davis Cup Finals, he won’t have regular partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert by his side.
Title favourites Spain look nailed on to win this group. Their team includes four of the five players which won the Davis Cup Finals in November, including world number one Rafael Nadal and another top-10 star Roberto Bautista Agut. Marcel Granollers is the man missing, replaced by Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The draw could hardly have been kinder, especially now Japan have lost Kei Nishikori to injury. They, along with Georgia and Uruguay, look simply to be battling for second spot.
The Georgians (Nikoloz Basilashvili) and Uruguay (Pablo Cuevas) look very much one-man teams and show the flaws in the selection format for the competition. Few can be relishing watching their second-ranked players – Alexandre Metreveli and Martin Cuevas – battling it out. Neither is ranked inside the top 500.
Norway aside, this should be a pretty competitive group. Davis Cup semi-finalists Russia are the right favourites. They’ve swapped Andrey Rublev for Daniil Medvedev and he should play singles with Karen Khachanov. However, Russia were one of the teams who succeeded in Madrid with just two players – Rublev and Khachanov forming a strong doubles team – and expecting both Medvedev and Khachanov to play six singles and six doubles across a 10-day period looks fanciful and the back-up simply isn’t there.
USA might be slightly better off in that department – they have veteran doubles star Rajeev Ram to supplement singles men John Isner and Taylor Fritz but the withdrawal of Reilly Opelka leaves them light of options.
Perhaps Italy could take advantage, even though they will be without their top-ranked player, Matteo Berrettini. Fabio Fognini is excellent on his day and he’s also won a Grand Slam doubles title with team-mate Simone Bolelli.
Still, whoever wins this group may be struggling to go deep in the knockout rounds.
Croatia should win this group but may not get things all their own way. A singles line-up of Marin Cilic and Borna Coric isn’t the most consistent but it has plenty of talent, while Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic are both top-15 doubles players which means Cilic and Coric shouldn’t be required for doubles duty too often, if at all.
Austria boast Dominic Thiem in their line-up, a player who finished 2019 strongly and one with high expectations going into the new season. However, he lacks singles support and the doubles line-up of Jurgen Melzer and Oliver Marach, a regular tour team, will need to deliver consistently. It could happen but far from certain.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman and Guido Pella will always compete – the former is a strong hardcourt player – but even if they do get out of the group it’s hard to see them going all the way.
Finally Poland, drawn out the lowest pot, are not without a chance either. Youngster Hubert Hurkacz made big strides in 2019 beating a string of highly-ranked opponents and if he forms a strong doubles team with Lukasz Kubot, the world number one just 19 months ago, they could contend. Of the teams available at a three-figure price, the Poles look to have the best chance.
The undoubted group of death – it features three of the top seven in the market.
The danger is whoever wins the group will have used up too much energy in reaching the quarter-finals. They will also have to make the trip to Sydney and adapt to different conditions so backing any of these teams comes with a warning.
Greece probably aren’t going through here although the fact that Stefanos Tsitsipas is in their team means opponents could easily be losing a rubber against them – and that could hinder their chances of progressing one of the best two runners-up, which is another concern for potential backers.
Hosts Australia are favourites and home advantage should serve them well. Nick Kyrgios won the title here in Brisbane two years ago, while Alex de Minaur was victorious last season in Sydney. They went well at the Davis Cup Finals (four of the five players remain the same) and arguably would have beaten eventual runners-up Canada in the quarter-finals had Kyrgios not picked up an injury.
Canada made the semis in Madrid and arguably are stronger here. Felix Auger-Aliassime wasn’t properly fit six weeks ago but should be now. He’ll play singles with Denis Shapovalov (Vasek Pospisil isn’t here). However, the two singles players also played doubles in Madrid and such a workload in the heat of Australia looks tougher.
Germany’s team also looks strong and takes on a much different structure. Alex Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff look set for singles duty with their specialist doubles team of Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies one of the best in the world. With neither playing singles, they could make all the difference in this group.
Before delivering a final verdict, let’s look at the knockout draw, which has already been made:
Winner C v Winner F
Winner B v Runner-up 1
Winner D v Winner E
Winner A v Runner-up 2
In what is a win-only market, seeking out long-shot value is of less appeal than it otherwise might have been but both France and Croatia make some appeal.
With Monfils, Paire and Simon all decent singles options, the French could upset a Djokovic-heavy Serbia in Group A. They would also then meet one of the best runners-up in the last eight.
They would also avoid both Spain (assuming they win Group B) and the winner of the toughest group, F, before the final.
France have long thrived in a team environment with their strength in depth always a key factor and at 14/1 they may be a tad overpriced.
Croats well balanced
Croatia, possible semi-final opponents for France, are also worthy of consideration.
Assuming they are able to get out of their group, they have a definite advantage of playing the entire tournament in Sydney. Unlike Spain and France, they won’t have to adapt to new conditions midway through.
Borna Coric and Marin Cilic, an Australian Open finalist two years ago, aren’t out of the top drawer in terms of singles players but both are highly talented and if the latter is able to produce his best form, he’ll be a formidable second selection given he’s now behind Coric in the rankings.
Significantly, Croatia also have a specialist doubles team in Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic which will ease the burden on their singles stars.
Like France, I suggest backing them to small stakes at 10/1.