ATP Cup: Frequently asked questions about inaugural event - 10 minutes read

Tennis ushers in new year with new ATP Cup event -- and plenty of questions

The year in men's tennis launches in a radically different way in 2020, with a disruptive new mega-event -- the ATP Cup -- replacing all but two men's tournaments as sanctioned preludes to the Australian Open.

The ATP Cup, a partnership between the ATP and the hard-charging leadership of Tennis Australia, features teams from 24 nations. They will play in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth over a 10-day period to determine a champion nation.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the ATP's newest event:

The format of the ATP Cup is almost identical to that of the revamped Davis Cup and, like the Laver Cup, the ATP Cup hopes to capitalize on burgeoning interest in team play. But unlike those other events, the ATP Cup is neither an exhibition (like the Laver Cup) nor a truly international event with a rich history (Davis Cup has occupied a unique niche in sports for 119 years).

The ATP Cup is a regional event created to give the players a new and improved way to prepare for the Australian Open. If successful, it could become a formidable rival to the Davis Cup. But if history is any indicator, that won't happen. The ATP created and staged the ATP World Team Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany, from 1978 to 2012. It also was an international team event but played on red clay in advance of the French Open. The event was a local hit for many years, but it never threatened the status of the Davis Cup.

The ATP Cup will be executed on a larger canvas, but it will be subject to the same constraints. It will give players great prep work for the coming major, but the narrative is likely to remain focused on that Australian Open. Will anyone want to peak for the ATP Cup instead of the main event?

A few months ago in Madrid, the organizers of the overhauled Davis Cup learned how difficult it is to attract significant numbers of fans from far-flung nations to a neutral site. Madrid is a lot closer to legions of tennis fans than the cities where the ATP Cup will be played, so the ATP has its work cut out if it hopes to attract a truly international audience.

The selection process is complicated and not entirely satisfying.

A country must have three ATP-ranked players, at least two of them in singles, to be eligible, with up to five players per team. There are two entry deadlines. Upon the first, Sept. 13, the top 18 countries in the ATP Cup standings were automatically accepted based on the singles ranking of their No. 1 singles players.

Australia did not qualify on merit but was accepted as a wild card because it's the host nation. Given the timing and design of the event, this means Australia has a perpetual wild card, and that doesn't seem quite right.

The second-highest-ranked singles players in nations that qualified were also automatically accepted. That means that a number of players ranked in the nether regions will be doing star turns on the big stage. Moldova qualified thanks to Radu Albot (ATP ranked No. 46), but the nation's No. 2 singles player, Alexander Cozbinov, is ranked No. 818.

Meanwhile, some fine players (like 22-year-old Reilly Opelka of the United States, whose ranking is No. 36) have a tough decision to make: serve as bench warmers in the ATP Cup or play a tournament for pre-Australian Open experience and rankings points. It's a significant problem because the ATP is -- controversially -- doling out rankings points at this event (see below).

Much like the revamped Davis Cup, the teams are broken up into six groups of four for the first stage, which will be round-robin play. The six winners and two best second-place finishers will then convene in Sydney to play a knockout, three-day finals.

Each tie (match between teams) will consist of three matches: two singles and one doubles, starting with the match between the No. 2 players and ending with the doubles. Both singles will be best-of-three set matches. The doubles will feature no-ad scoring and a match tiebreaker instead of a third set, if needed. All doubles matches will be played even if the best-of-three matches tie is already decided.

This is a major move by the ATP at a time when the organization is doing a lot of soul-searching, and the rank-and-file has been demanding that it become a more vigorous agent pursuing power and self-determination for the players. In a show of solidarity, almost all the top players have thrown their support behind the event. The field is led by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

Among those who chose not to play or don't want to participate as subs or doubles players because they aren't either of the top two singles players in their respective nations: Roger Federer (he begged off for "personal" reasons), his fellow countryman and Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka (he chose to lead the parade of players competing at the same time at Doha), Milos Raonic, Frances Tiafoe, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and others.

The rollout took an unexpected hit a few days ago when Andy Murray's management team announced that the British star's much-anticipated return to Australia starting with the ATP Cup has been canceled due to a lingering pelvic injury. Murray caused a sensation at the Australian Open last year when, in an emotional farewell, he announced his retirement from tennis due to a chronic hip injury. He almost immediately hedged his bet, underwent hip resurfacing surgery and found his way back to the court by mid-summer. Murray bruised his pelvis during the Davis Cup tournament in November, He now plans to return in early February.

Money, of course. The ATP has created a pool of $15 million to be awarded as appearance fees as well as prize money for individual match wins and tie victories. In addition, because the ATP makes the rules, the event will break with convention and award rankings points.

Neither the Laver Cup nor the Davis Cup is allowed to offer rankings points. That's mainly (but not exclusively) because team events aren't open to all comers based on merit (ranking) the way tournaments are. Too many variables affect a player's opportunities in team competitions.

To further sweeten the pot, the ATP will allow participants in the ATP Cup to use their results as an additional bonus event in their ranking calculation. That is, they will be allowed to add the rankings points earned at the ATP Cup to their regular best-of-18 metric to determine their ranking. Both perks have led some constituents of the ATP to cry foul.

Taylor Fritz, who told that he was looking forward to playing in the ATP Cup, said: "I'm all about fairness in our sport and not having ways to cheat the system. It's unfair that you can be, like ranked No. 36 (like Opelka) in the world and not be able to play an event, while guys ranked 200 or 300 (or lower) play for a country that doesn't have a strong No. 2. And then that counts as a free 19th event, too?"

The numbers in play here aren't insignificant. A player who wins every possible singles match in the ATP Cup stands to earn 750 rankings points -- the equivalent of titles in an ATP 500 and an ATP 250 tournament.

Opelka told "Getting that free 19th event that nobody else gets is huge. The difference between me being No. 36 and No. 30 may not be that big, points-wise. But if I miss getting to 30 in the world because I don't get that extra chance at the ATP Cup, it might mean a reduction in my contracts. It can make a big difference."

The ATP has borrowed freely from Federer's wildly successful Laver Cup, but stopped short of tampering with the scoring format in singles.

The teams will have visible captains, selected by each team's No. 1 player in consultation with other team members. Predictably, everyone wants to get in on the action and superstar captains have been trending -- Boris Becker for Germany, Marat Safin for Russia, Thomas Muster for Austria, Lleyton Hewitt for Australia and Tim Henman for the UK squad.

Coaching will be allowed at any time, by teammates on the sidelines as well as the captain, as long as it doesn't interfere with the speed of play.

In a nod to the youth audience, a player born in 2001 or later can be included on the team if he enters and has a top-500 ATP singles ranking or a top-50 ITF junior ranking at the second entry deadline (Nov. 13). The young player can displace a countryman if that player's ATP rankings fall outside the top 500 for singles or top 100 for doubles.

The stage is set. The ATP is set to do its part to satisfy the growing appetite for team events. As Fritz said, "I think there's room for all these Cup events. Actually, I think there's room for even more of them because, to me, they make things more interesting."


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