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Preview: High Energy & Belief Fuel Canada, Russia For ATP Cup Semi-finals

  • Posted: Jan 07, 2022

Superstar power makes a big difference in the fortunes of a team at the ATP Cup, but the greatest characteristic of success is how closely the players bond. Novak’s Djokovic’s Serbia won the inaugural edition in 2020, while Russia’s heavyweights Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, with the help of “secret weapon” Aslan Karatsev, secured the silverware last year.

On Saturday afternoon, two teams that have united so well this week, Canada and defending champion Russia, square-off on Ken Rosewall Arena for a place in the final.

For Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is combining playing and captain duties for Canada this week, there is real belief. The World No. 11 has highlighted in his wins over Great Britain’s Daniel Evans and his 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Alexander Zverev of Germany on Thursday, how much he is relishing the atmosphere of the teams’ event. 

The 21-year-old now meets his sometime practice partner, Medvedev, for the third time. “We’re going to try to keep that momentum going,” said Auger-Aliassime. “The spirit was really high in the locker room after.”

Auger-Aliassime is already formulating a plan for Medvedev, having lost to the Russian 3-6, 6-4 7-6(7) at Toronto in August 2018 and 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in the US Open semi-finals in September 2021. “We played twice now,” said Auger-Aliassime. “He just does everything really well. As much as he defends really well and makes you play an extra ball, he’s very agile and has a good hand. He also serves really good. So he can get quick points on his serve and then make you work on the return.

“I would say he’s the modern complete player. But I’m going to try to find a way to get him out of his comfort zone and what he likes. It’s going to be a fight. There’s no secret. Sometimes you just have to give the effort, dig deep physically and mentally, and I’m going to have to do that Saturday if I want to give myself a chance.”

While Medvedev gets more plaudits, the biggest surprise for Russia has been Roman Safiullin’s ability to raise his game in his No. 2 singles matches against France’s Arthur Rinderknech, James Duckworth of Australia and Italy’s Jannik Sinner. World No. 14 Shapovalov will rightly be cautious in his preparations.

As a junior, Safiullin beat Medvedev, Rublev and Karen Khachanov, but life as a professional has been harder since capturing the 2015 Australian Open junior crown. He didn’t expect to compete at the ATP Cup, but with the withdrawals of Rublev and Karatsev, Safiullin stepped up. In recent days, the 24-year-old has experienced several ‘pinch me’ moments.

“Now I’m super happy that I could bring two points in singles and help in the doubles,” said Safiullin, following victory over Italy on Thursday. “I was thinking about it [on court]… that I’m standing here and nearby is Top 10 players, three guys. One is [No.] 2, one is [No.] 6 or 7, another one is [No.] 10, and I’m like [No.] 170.

It’s a great feeling, but I showed my best tennis, and hopefully [my ATP] Ranking will be improving and maybe one day I will be also with these guys [on the] same court [and] position, Top 10. This [tournament] gives [me] a lot of confidence, especially [the] first two wins… It’s absolutely giving me more confidence to work more and to improve.”

The way too that Russia’s captain Gilles Cervara, Alexander Shevchenko and Evgeny Karlovskiy have supported in the Team Zone has played a big part in keeping the courtside energy high for the defending champion.

“You feel that the team is behind you,” said Medvedev, who is 10-2 in singles play at the ATP Cup. “There are two tournaments in the year where, you feel that they are really for you, because let’s say I watch Andrey or any Russian player on the [ATP] Tour, you want them to win, but you’re not going to be in front of TV or standing up every point screaming, ‘Come on’. Here you do. That’s what is fun. That’s why I had a lot of fun on the court.”

Shapovalov, who will begin the ATP Cup semi-final against Safiullin, is looking forward to meeting Russia. “I think it’s super exciting,” said Shapovalov, who helped Canada to the 2020 ATP Cup quarter-finals. “I think we’ve got good chances. Obviously, Russia is playing really well. They have got Daniil Medvedev, one of best players in the world, so it’s going to be tough. But I believe in us.

“The way Felix played, he beat Zverev, who is probably one of the best players in the world right now, and I think he can take [on] anyone. And together in doubles, as well, I think we have really good chances. So we definitely have a good, good team.”

Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta await Canada or Russia in Sunday’s final.

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Bautista Agut Wins Thriller Against Hurkacz, Sends Spain To ATP Cup Final

  • Posted: Jan 07, 2022

Roberto Bautista Agut clinched Spain’s place in the ATP Cup championship match on Friday evening with a thrilling 7-6(6), 2-6, 7-6(5) victory against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz. Russia and Canada will meet on Saturday to earn the other spot in the final.

Two years ago, Bautista Agut played a critical role at No. 2 singles (6-0) during his country’s run to the final, which Serbia won. The 33-year-old has again been flawless this edition, winning all four of his matches at No. 1 singles to lead the way for the two-time finalists.

“It’s a match that I will always remember. I think both of us could get the win today. He also really deserved a lot of good things. But this is our game, this is tennis,” Bautista Agut said. “Today I was the one who got the win. I think I also deserved it. I did a lot of good things on the court.”

Hurkacz was desperate to keep his country’s hopes alive and he played tremendous tennis inside Ken Rosewall Arena, saving five match points with gutsy shotmaking. But Bautista Agut was relentless, eventually emerging victorious after a high-quality two hours and 44 minutes.

“Sometimes you get the win on the first [match] point. He played two or three lines in a row, but sometimes you stay focussed like today, you keep working and finally you lose the tie-break,” Bautista Agut said. “But today I kept working and I got the win.”

The Sydney crowd roared in support of Hurkacz at 4-5 Ad Out when he hit a terrific low backhand volley to save the first match point he faced and there was another eruption later in the game after Bautista Agut missed a difficult forehand passing shot into the net on his second opportunity.

Another missed chance for Bautista Agut two games later added to the tension in the air. Hurkacz continued to fight until the end, saving two more match points in the tie-break. But the Spaniard finally brought the thriller to a close with a curling crosscourt forehand passing shot, which ‘Hubi’ volleyed into the net.

“I played really aggressive at the end of the match. Maybe a bit more aggressive in the tie-break than on the match points, but I ended the tie-break with a good passing shot,” Bautista Agut said. “He was playing unbelievable volleys, so I’m really happy about the win of today.”

Hurkacz, a 2021 Nitto ATP Finals competitor, delivered 24 aces to just one for his opponent. He also showed great courage in rushing the net under pressure. But Bautista Agut was a wall on the biggest points. His elation showed after clinching the victory, with a look of great relief on his face.

The Pole was 6-0 in ATP Cup singles play entering the final. Hurkacz helped his team to its best performance in event history.

Earlier Friday in the No. 2 singles, Pablo Carreno Busta gave his country the advantage with a 6-2, 6-1 win against Jan Zielinski. Kamil Majchrzak went 3-0 for Poland in the group stages, but was forced into isolation due to a positive Covid-19 test and was unable to compete.

Did You Know?
Bautista Agut has been dominant in his first tournament of the season over the past six years. Since the beginning of 2017, the Spaniard has gone 20-3 — including 11-2 at the ATP Cup — in his first event of the year.

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Dimitrov Saves 2 M.P. In Melbourne, Joins Nadal In SFs

  • Posted: Jan 07, 2022

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov saved two match points on Friday for a place in the semi-finals at the Melbourne Summer Set.

Having run through the second set, third seed Dimitrov fell to 2-5 in the decider against Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, before a thrilling finale and a 6-7(5), 6-0, 7-5 win over two hours and 45 minutes. Van de Zandschulp served for the match at 5-3, 40/15 in the third set, and later got broken at 5-5 in a 24-point game.

Dimitrov, who is seeking the ninth ATP Tour trophy of his career, now challenges American qualifier Maxime Cressy for the first time.

World No. 112 Cressy booked a place in his first ATP Tour semi-final by striking 10 aces to knock out Jaume Munar of Spain 7-6(3), 6-4 in two hours and 25 minutes. Cressy saved two matches points in the third-set tie-break of his Melbourne second-round win over fellow American and second seed Reilly Opelka on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori set up a clash against top-seeded Spaniard Rafael Nadal, following a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Alex Molcan of Slovakia in 68 minutes.

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Kyrgios Set To Return In Sydney; Murray Awarded Wild Card

  • Posted: Jan 07, 2022

Nick Kyrgios returns to the ATP Tour for the first time in almost four months at the Sydney Tennis Classic, which begins on 10 January. The Australian, who hasn’t played since the Laver Cup in September 2021, will join Aslan Karatsev and former World No. 1 Andy Murray at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre.

Murray, who has been awarded a wild card, said, “I’m looking forward to playing in Sydney for the first time and continuing my preparation for the Australian Open. I’ve heard great things about Sydney. It’s a pretty cool city.”

The 34-year-old Briton watched from the stands on Thursday as Great Britain defeated United States 2-1 in its final Group C tie at the ATP Cup. Roberto Bautista Agut, Taylor Fritz and Daniel Evans who all competed at the ATP Cup, will also play in Sydney at the ATP 250 tournament.

The women’s singles draw will feature 19 of the Top 30 in the WTA Rankings, including World No. 1 Ash Barty, Garbine Muguruza, Barbora Krejcikova, Simona Halep, Iga Swiatek, Sofia Kenin, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. Australians Ajla Tomljanovic and Astra Sharma have been awarded singles wild cards.

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Carreno Busta Puts Spain On Brink Of ATP Cup Final

  • Posted: Jan 07, 2022

Pablo Carreno Busta put Spain on the brink of its second ATP Cup final on Friday evening with a 6-2, 6-1 victory against Poland’s Jan Zielinski.

Kamil Majchrzak went 3-0 at No. 2 singles for Poland in Group D action, helping his country make it this far. But the 25-year-old announced earlier Friday he had tested positive for Covid-19, forcing him out of the competition and into health protocols, including isolation.

“When you expect to play against one player and at the last moment they change it, [it is tough]. They were unlucky, so sorry about that,” Carreno Busta said. “But I had to do my tennis, my job and I think that I played really good, [I was] very focussed on my game. It’s important to always be one up [for the team].”

Zielinski stepped in for the biggest match of his life, but he had never previously played a tour-level singles match. The doubles standout was unable to put pressure on Carreno Busta, who remained solid in his 54-minute triumph.

The World No. 20 has been on big stages plenty throughout his career, and that experience showed on Ken Rosewall Arena. Zielinski earned roars from the crowd in the match’s final moments with flashy winners, but it was not enough to mount a serious comeback.

Carreno Busta protected his serve — he did not face a break point — to move to 4-0 at this year’s event. The former World No. 10 has not lost a set at this year’s ATP Cup.

“It’s very important at the beginning of the year always [to find] the rhythm, for the confidence,” Carreno Busta said. “I’m happy about this tournament, I’m playing really good,” Carreno Busta said. “I’m feeling very comfortable here in Australia, in Sydney on this court. I would like to continue this way.”

Roberto Bautista Agut can close out the tie and seal his country’s second berth in the ATP Cup final with a win against 2021 Nitto ATP Finals competitor Hubert Hurkacz. In 2020, Spain lost in the championship match in Sydney against Serbia.

“Now we have to continue. We have two more matches,” Carreno Busta said. “Hurkacz against Roberto is a really close match, really tough, so we’ll see. In any case I need to be ready for doubles.”

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