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Scouting Report: Nadal, Swiatek Headline Inaugural United Cup

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Scouting Report: Nadal, Swiatek Headline Inaugural United Cup

An executive summary of what every fan should know about the coming week

The 2023 season is starting on a high.

Week 1 will feature the United Cup, the new 18-country, mixed-teams event. The world’s best players will be in action across Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, including Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Poland’s Iga Swiatek. looks at 10 things to watch at the inaugural event.

1) Playing Captains: Five of the 18 countries competing in the inaugural United Cup feature playing captains: Bulgaria (Grigor Dimitrov), France (Edouard Roger-Vasselin), Greece (Petros Tsitsipas), Kazakhstan (Alexander Bublik) and Switzerland (Stan Wawrinka).

2) Nadal Leads Spanish Bid: World No. 2 Nadal headlines Team Spain at the United Cup. The 36-year-old performed impressively on Australian soil last season, winning an ATP 250 title in Melbourne before he captured the Australian Open crown. WTA star Paula Badosa and World No. 13 Pablo Carreno Busta will also feature for Spain against Team Australia and Team Great Britain in Group D.

3) Home Favourites Australia: Co-captains Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur will aim to bring home fans joy and guide Team Australia to the title in Sydney over the next 11 days. The home nation will be spearheaded by Alex de Minaur, with Ajla Tomljanovic the women’s No. 1 singles player. The team has been bonding in the lead-up to the mixed-nations event, having visited Campbells Cove earlier this week. Australia will be looking to use its collective team spirit on court to earn wins in Sydney.

4) Champions In Action: Several tour-level champions will look to bring their best when they compete on Ken Rosewall Arena over the coming days. The 29-time titlist Petra Kvitova plays for the Czech Republic, while two-time Nitto ATP Finals victor Alexander Zverev is set to return from injury to represent Germany. Indian Wells winner Taylor Fritz is in action for the United States alongside World No. 3 Jessica Pegula.

5) Return To Perth: This week’s United Cup action marks the first time the Western Australian capital has hosted an event on either the ATP Tour or Hologic WTA Tour since January 2020. Three teams in Group A and three in Group F will battle at RAC Arena from 29 December until 4 January, when they will attempt to qualify for the United Cup Finals to be held in Sydney from 6-8 January. 

6) Team Greece Top Seeds: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari are the No. 1 singles players for Team Greece, the only squad in Perth featuring players ranked inside both the ATP and WTA Top 10s. Tsitsipas takes on Team Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in a blockbuster opening ATP singles match, and the World No. 4 could also team with Sakkari for the mixed doubles. 

The pair has played together before at RAC Arena, at the 2019 Hopman Cup, where they notched notable mixed doubles wins against the USA’s Frances Tiafoe and Serena Williams, and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Roger Federer. Can they lead their nation to further success this week in Perth?

7) French Strength In Depth: Team France features four singles players ranked inside the Top 50 on their respective Tours. Arthur Rinderknech (No. 44 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings), who reached his maiden ATP Tour final in Australia last season at the Adelaide International 2, and Adrian Mannarino (No. 46) will look to kickstart their 2023 seasons with strong showings in Perth. Their teammates this week include WTA World No. 4 Caroline Garcia and No. 36 Alize Cornet.

8) Brisbane Is Back: The list of Brisbane International winners includes stars like former World No. 1s Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick. Fans at the Queensland Tennis Centre enjoyed the first ATP Cup in the city in 2020, and will now get a taste of the inaugural United Cup. Switzerland playing captain Stan Wawrinka reached the semi-finals at the Brisbane ATP 250 in 2017 and will try to rely on those positive memories this week.

9) Polish Power: One of the countries to watch in Brisbane is Poland, led by WTA World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and ATP World No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz. The country also has veteran leadership in former doubles World No. 1 Lukasz Kubot. Co-captain Agnieszka Radwanska, a WTA legend, also has mixed-teams experience having helped her country win the Hopman Cup in 2015.

10) Italy On The Rise: One of the biggest stories in the sport over the past few years has been the rise of Italian tennis. Matteo Berrettini has already helped his country to the championship match in the ATP Cup. Will the Italians be able to take it a step further in the United Cup, with Martina Trevisan on their side?

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Will Polish Powers Hurkacz & Swiatek Lead Poland To United Cup Glory?

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Will Polish Powers Hurkacz & Swiatek Lead Poland To United Cup Glory?

Poland faces Kazakhstan and Switzerland in Group B

Leave it up to Iga Swiatek to change the trajectory. 

In this case, we’re not talking about her on-court results. During Poland’s United Cup press conference Wednesday in Brisbane, Swiatek (in good fun) wanted to move on from the team camaraderie line of questioning.

To be fair, it’s safe to say her fellow Polish teammates are reveling in not only playing together at this inaugural team event, but have aspirations of succeeding. 

“Yeah, pumped for the team, and we will try our best,” said Hubert Hurkacz, the ATP’s World No. 10.

Still, Swiatek was ready to change it up, which of course, led to questions on her 2022 season, where she finished as the top-ranked player by a landslide. Swiatek, who finished with more than twice as many rankings points as No. 2 Ons Jabeur, was quick to admit her season went far better than she could have imagined — but was also ready to move on.

“I’m going to try to kind of cut off everything that happened last year and just focus on the future, because I feel like I can take a lot of experience from these tournaments last year,” she said, “but I don’t want to really like hold on to that too much, because I want to go forward and kind of focus on my next goals.

“For sure all these press conferences are going to kind of remind me of everything, but my goal is to just focus on the future and try to improve as a tennis player.”

Sviate will hope that future involves a deep run at the United Cup, where Poland will try to battle past Kazakhstan and Switzerland in Group B.

With Swiatek and Hurkacz, as well as the leadership of former doubles World No. 1 Lukasz Kubot and co-captains Agnieszka Radwanska and Dawid Celt, Poland has plenty of experience on its side.

“We had experience before to play in the ATP Cup, now it’s United Cup. I think it’s a great thing, and we are going to continue this for the next years,” Kubot said. “I’m very pleased to be with the Polish team, especially right now it’s a big boom in our country with tennis.”

Radwanska is familiar with mixed-teams events, having lifted the 2015 Hopman Cup trophy for her country with Jerzy Janowicz.

“I’m very happy to be part of the team. Myself, I had a great experience playing Hopman Cup for the two times and winning that event as well,” Radwanska said. “I think it’s going to be a really interesting one, combined, ladies and gentlemen all together. I think it’s going to be a lot of good tennis the next few days.”

Poland will need to be sharp against Kazakhstan and Switzerland, both of which have playing captains. Former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka leads Switzerland, which also features WTA stars Belinda Bencic and Jil Teichmann.

“It’s always special to be in a team, especially when you represent your country,” Wawrinka said. “It’s something that I want to play my best, do the best I can. Hopefully I can really help the team.”

Alexander Bublik is the playing captain for Kazakhstan. The 25-year-old is thrilled not just for the event, but to be competing in Brisbane.

“It’s great to be back in Brisbane. Been here first time in [2018] when they hosted the ATP event here,” Bublik said. “It’s always been great memories, one of my favourite stops in Australia. Pretty excited to play here, centre court, and have this inaugural United Cup and be part of it.”

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Tsitsipas, Sakkari Drawing On Fond Memories In Perth For United Cup

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Tsitsipas, Sakkari Drawing On Fond Memories In Perth For United Cup

Greece leads Group A alongside Belgium and Bulgaria

The last time Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas were in Perth, the Greek duo was causing a stir as the underdogs. At the 2019 Hopman Cup, they pulled off separate mixed doubles wins over both Serena Williams (with Frances Tiafoe) and Roger Federer (with Belinda Bencic).

“Those are some of the best memories of my career,” Sakkari recalled on Media Day at the inaugural United Cup, where Team Greece is the No.1 seed, the only squad in Perth featuring players ranked inside both the WTA and ATP Top 10s.

Sakkari and Tsitsipas aren’t just fuelled by positive vibes, though. There’s a sense of unfinished business after they were pipped by eventual champions Switzerland in 2019.

“We didn’t make it to the finals, but we were very close to,” observed WTA No.6 Sakkari. “I would say a little bit unlucky with the scoring system. It wasn’t a regular scoring system.”

Tsitsipas concurred, and said that Team Greece had set themselves lofty goals.

“We have our eyes on the prize,” said the ATP No. 4. “I have a lot of faith in the players that are currently in our squad. I feel like it can’t get any better than that right now. We’re really striving for excellence all together.”

The Greek squad features two pairs of siblings – Stefanos and younger brother Petros Tsitsipas, who is also the team captain, as well as Sapfo Sakellaridi, 19, and Stefanos Sakellaridis, 18. Their tight bonds have influenced the whole team.

“I think our spirit is one of the best among all of the teams,” said the elder Tsitsipas. “We have a family-oriented mentality in what we pursue. We are extremely collaborative between each other.”

Greece has been drawn in Group A in Perth alongside Bulgaria and Belgium, and will kick off against the former. Despite the star power floating around the group, the first rubber of the competition will be an opportunity for lesser-known team members to shine as No.158-ranked Despina Papamichail faces No.381-ranked Isabella Shinikova.

“I feel a bit extra responsibility,” said Greek No.2 Papamichail, who enjoyed her most successful season to date in 2022. “But I’m really excited to be here with the team, with such good players. I’m really looking forward to helping to reach our goal.”

Shinikova was also excited for her upcoming big-stage moment.

“I prepare really well,” said the Bulgarian No.2. “Give all my heart.”

Bulgarian playing captain Grigor Dimitrov, the ATP No. 28, backed up Shinikova with faith in his team.

“Each one has their own characteristic in the sense of what they can bring to the table,” he said. “It can be very interesting, because after a couple of days of matches, it might come down to something that we didn’t really expect. Each one of them can bring something to the table on and off the court. That’s why it’s a team.”

Lying in wait for both will be the Belgian squad, which faces Bulgaria in the second group tie before taking on Greece in the third and final tie. Team Belgium also boasts a playing captain in Kirsten Flipkens; the 36-year-old ended her singles career at Wimbledon in July, but retirement hasn’t slowed her down. Since then, Flipkens has reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open alongside Édouard Roger-Vasselin, won her sixth Hologic WTA Tour doubles title with Laura Siegemund in Cluj-Napoca, and is now in charge of a national team for the first time.

“It’s much more busy the last few weeks,” said Flipkens. “It’s a privilege to be captain of such a great team.  I just try to organise everything for the practices for the team and just take the responsibility. So far, so good, I guess. Right, team?”

Flipkens’ squad features a wealth of talent: Elise Mertens, Alison Van Uytvanck and David Goffin are all known for their frequent hot shots on their respective tours. Moreover, reigning WTA Finals doubles champion and former Australian Open singles semi-finalist Mertens could prove a crucial lynchpin of the team with her prowess in both disciplines.

“I’m ready to play both,” said Mertens. “And we have a good example. Captain has good volleys!”

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‘A Lot Of Good Vibes Around Here’: Team France Eyes Fast Start In Group F

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

‘A Lot Of Good Vibes Around Here’: Team France Eyes Fast Start In Group F

Croatia and Argentina also seeking Group F success in Perth

Returning to the scene of past successes can be daunting, but Team France’s Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet are feeling nothing but excitement as they return to Perth to spearhead Team France’s charge at the inaugural United Cup.

The pair was part of France’s Fed Cup-winning team in 2019, a victory that was clinched with final victory against Australia in the city in Western Australia.

“Yesterday when we had our first hit on centre court with Caroline, we had a little moment of emotion coming back on this court,” said Cornet of Perth’s RAC Arena, where Team France will take on Team Croatia and Team Argentina in Group F. “It was very powerful, this team experience, and this joy of winning… So I hope this lucky charm is going to act on this team, because we have a really good team to go far in the tournament.”

Captain Edouard Roger-Vasselin has a strong team at his disposal this week, when Top 50 ATP stars Arthur Rinderknech and Adrian Mannarino join Cornet and WTA World No. 4 Caroline Garcia as their team’s singles players. Garcia reached her maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open before lifting the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, and the 29-year-old is keen to showcase more of that form to help her team to success this week in Perth.

“I think with the format, every match and every game is important,” said Garcia. “If you cannot qualify as first one, it would be the second one, and so every match is very important for the team. But also as your personal goal, you want to keep improving, play the best you can when you’re on court.”

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Another player who enjoyed the biggest win of his career last season was Borna Coric, who clinched his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. The 26-year-old is the highest-ranked singles player on Team Croatia and believes the unique nature of the mixed-teams event, which will see 18 nations competing in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney from 29 December to 8 January, is a motivating factor.

“I would like to see how the girls are going to be playing, how the men are going to be playing,” said Coric. “If we win, it’s going to be great… [The creation of this event] is very, very important. I’m sure we going to do great, that we going to have a very, very good time. I think that’s the most important as well.”

Like their Group F rivals Team France, Team Croatia possesses considerable strength-in-depth. Established WTA stars Petra Martic and Donna Vekic are both looking to build on strong showings in the 2022 season.

“You want to take the good times into the new season, build on that good feeling and good momentum,” said Martic, who lifted her second WTA Tour title in Lausanne in July. “I’m feeling pretty good. I think I was progressing last year from beginning until the end. I was playing better and better. I hope I can keep doing that in 2023.”

“I’m really happy to be in Perth, to be playing this event,” said former WTA No. 19 Vekic. “I think it’s a great start of the year. We have two matches guaranteed, and hopefully we can play a couple more. Hopefully I can continue in good form from last year.”

It is not just the United Cup experience that will be new for Team Argentina this week. Former WTA star and team captain Gisela Dulko admitted most of team had only recently met for the first time, but believes that could only improve their first United Cup experience.

“We don’t know each other since very long,” said Dulko. “So it’s going to be our first experience. We are happy we are going to have this time to know each other, to talk, to help each other. It’s going to be a good week for us.”

Team Argentina’s lead WTA singles player is Nadia Podoroska, while ATP No. 30 Francisco Cerundolo is the highest-ranked singles player in the group. Like many of his compatriots, Cerundolo admitted to being inspired by the exploits of Argentina’s men’s football team, which claimed World Cup victory in Qatar just 10 days ago.

“I think it was crazy the last 10 days and the whole month Argentina people went crazy when we started winning,” said Cerundolo. “Of course when we won the finals, the city, Buenos Aires, was unreal, people went nuts.

“Of course it inspires me, and I think the other guys, but I think it inspires the whole country, because football there, I think it’s everything. It was great, great news for the country, for us… Of course we can [also] bring the cup back home.”

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Tsitsipas Explores Western Australia Ahead Of United Cup Debut

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Tsitsipas Explores Western Australia Ahead Of United Cup Debut

ATP star and WTA No. 6 Sakkari to lead top-seeded Team Greece

Stefanos Tsitsipas is determined to “create some beautiful memories” at the inaugural United Cup.

The No.4 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings is already achieving that goal, even before taking to the court for his first match.

Tsitsipas visited Perth’s picturesque Rottnest Island yesterday, where he played beach tennis and enjoyed local delicacies for lunch alongside team-mates Despina Papamichail and Valentini Grammatikopoulou.

Team Greece on Rottnest Island

Valentini Grammatikopoulou, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Despina Papamichail pose on the beach on Rottnest Island. Photo Credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images.

The Team Greece members also captured selfies with quokkas, small animals that are unique to the island.

“I’ve loved coming back (to Rottnest Island),” said Tsitsipas, who had previously visited the popular Western Australia tourist destination in 2019.

“I had the opportunity four years ago and it has always occupied my mind. I’ve been thinking about how cool that experience was, getting to see the quokkas and take some photos with them.

“It’s good to connect tennis with nature and zone out a little bit before the competition starts. It’s been nice getting the opportunity to explore wildlife and see the beautiful sights of Western Australia that you don’t get to see when you’re competing on the tennis court.”

Team Greece on Rottnest Island
Team Greece walk along the beach at Parakeet Bay on Rottnest Island.

The United Cup, a mixed-team event consisting of 18 nations, begins tomorrow with round-robin matches in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney.

Each United Cup tie comprises two men’s and two women’s singles matches, as well as one mixed doubles match, played across two days.

Four countries will advance to the knockout stage in Sydney, which runs from 6-8 January.

What To Watch On Day 1 At The United Cup

Team Greece, which also includes WTA World No.6 Maria Sakkari, are the tournament’s top seeds.

“It’s an exciting event,” Tsitsipas said. “For us, as Team Greece, I think is the best opportunity to show our best tennis. We have a great women’s team and at the same time, a great men’s team.”

Although Tsitsipas is confident that Team Greece can challenge for the United Cup title, he reiterated their immediate focus was on round-robin clashes with Bulgaria and Belgium in coming days.

“Over confidence can be an issue, in which case, we are extremely careful to stay humble,” he said.

“We have to be disciplined enough to show up and bring our best tennis every day. This is more of a marathon that we are heading towards and not a sprint. (But) we’re here for the long run.”

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Australia Ready To Carry Home Hopes In Group D

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Australia Ready To Carry Home Hopes In Group D

Great Britain & Spain also in Group D

With the stage set, Team Australia is determined to deliver in front of its home fans in Sydney this week at the United Cup. The home nation, led by Alex de Minaur and Ajla Tomljanovic, will play Team Great Britain and Team Spain in a stacked Group D.

“I think everyone is excited to kick off the year here in Sydney,” vice-captain Samantha Stosur said on Wednesday. “We’ve got amazing players on this team. Alex [de Minaur] is one of the best players in the world. [Jason] Kubler has had an incredible year as well, qualifying for a couple of slams.”

The World No. 24 De Minaur will compete as the men’s No. 1 singles player at the 18-country mixed-teams event for Australia and will face Cameron Norrie and Rafael Nadal in Sydney. The 23-year-old is excited to test himself against the world’s best at the start of the season in the city he grew up in.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity,” De Minaur said. “I’ve got two great matches. I’m playing Cameron Norrie and Nadal. It’s a great test for me. I’m excited to put myself out there. It’s going to be great to play on home ground, in front of friends and family, hopefully an electric atmosphere.”

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Nadal enjoyed a record-breaking season last year, winning four tour-level titles, including Grand Slam trophies at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. The World No. 2, who will play his opening match on Saturday, is relishing the chance to join forces with his countrymen and women.

“It’s always different when you play [as a] team,” Nadal said. “We are used to playing Davis Cup or Fed Cup. It is nothing 100 per cent new, but at the same time , it’s the first time that we share forces between men and women. [It is] going to be exciting.

“I think we can create a good team atmosphere, and hopefully we can start well because we know we have a very tough group.”

Paula Badosa will compete alongside Nadal in Australia. She feels the connection and camaraderie Team Spain has created will help them taste success at the event.

“I think it’s very important to stick together when you play as a country,” Badosa said. “Making a good atmosphere. I think what we have in Spain is that we have very competitive players, fighters. I think we will show that from the beginning.”

Great Britain also plays in Group D, with Tim Henman captaining his nation. He believes the move to integrate the ATP and WTA Tours at the United Cup is hugely beneficial and important for the sport.

“I think it’s a massive attribute to our sport to have these combined events. There are so few sports that are able to do that,” Henman said. “I’m very much looking forward to it. I think we’ve got a great team.”

With Norrie the highest-ranked player in Great Britain’s team at No. 14 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Henman will look to the 27-year-old to help drive his nation to victory.

“It’s great playing as a team, playing for your country,” Norrie said. “Even if you come unstuck in your first match, you’ve got another match to play as well. You get to support some of the other teammates. I love the team events. I know everybody does. It’s kind of my first-ever combined event, so I’m looking forward to watching the girls play as well.”

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Team USA Confident In Group C

  • Posted: Dec 28, 2022

Team USA Confident In Group C

Americans face Germany, Czech Republic in Group C

Team USA has reason to feel confident on the eve of the United Cup. The Americans have sent a team to Sydney that sees No.11 Madison Keys and No.19 Frances Tiafoe as their No.2 singles players behind No.3 Jessica Pegula and No.9 Taylor Fritz. In fact, the Americans are the only team in the entire 18-team competition to boast a total of four Top 20 players.

“I think we have a great team,” Tiafoe told reporters on Media Day. “Hopefully we can win it. Hopefully Taylor, Jess and Madi can carry me. It’s easy to compete when it’s not about you.”

The United States is the top seed in Group C, which also features a Petra Kvitova-led Czech Republic, and Germany.

“I think it’s an interesting group, especially with the United States,” said Germany’s captain Mischa Zverev. “They have very strong male and female players who have performed well over the last months.

“I don’t want to say we’re not the favorites, because we have a very strong team, but I think it will be very important to use all our little tricks to win those games. I don’t want to say winning ugly is important, but in a team, you have to use everything you can to distract the other player, in a fair manner of course, but use your strength and win those ties.”

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The Americans will open play on Day 1 against the Czech Republic. Coming off a short off-season after a run to the semifinals of the ATP Finals and representing the USA at Davis Cup, Fritz will take on 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka. Ranked No.84, Lehecka finished his 2022 season by making the final at the Next Gen Finals.

“It would have been nice to have more time to dive back into the new season but I’m ready to go,” Fritz said. “It’s always fun to start with a team competition. We have an extremely strong team.”

The WTA match will feature the second meeting between Keys and No.24 Marie Bouzkova. Australia has been fertile ground for Keys, who made her first major semifinal in Melbourne in 2015 and repeated the feat last January. She also picked up her last title in Adelaide a year ago.

“I lost to Madison here three years ago in Brisbane,” Bouzkova said. “It’s a hard match to start the season but I think it’s a great first test to get going here.”

Day 2 will see the WTA No.1s go head-to-head, as Pegula takes on Kvitova. Having finished her season with her first WTA 1000 title in Guadalajara and qualifying for the WTA Finals in singles and doubles, Pegula shook off any concern of a fatigue-hangover to start the season.

“It’s always a tough turnaround but I think the guys had even less time,” Pegula said. “For me, it felt like it was enough.

“A lot of us had to fly over Christmas and that’s not fun. But coming and starting the year with a team event it’s a different energy, maybe more relaxed, more of a fun atmosphere, a little less stressful.”

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