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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Wednesday January 15, 2020


The ATP Cup has come and gone, and while the merits of holding a second team tennis event six weeks after the Davis Cup should—and will—certainly be debated, we are here to talk about the tennis and how it has set the table for a very intense fortnight at the Australian Open (praying for better air, another story) and for the remainder of the 2020 season.

So without further ado, let’s look at what has transpired tennis-wise, and what it portends for the season to come.

Djokovic Flying High

Novak Djokovic played magnificently at ATP Cup and he’ll head to Melbourne with a full head of steam after leading Serbia to the title by notching not just one but MANY emotional victories in both singles and doubles. Is it a surprise to see Djokovic in brilliant form in early January? Not at all. And another thing: It won’t be a surprise if Djokovic gets a massive emotional boost from this victory all 2020 long. We saw what winning the Davis Cup did for him in 2011 when he had his first truly dominant year as a pro on the heels of Serbia’s title in 2010.

If Djokovic can stay healthy (a far more complicated project than it was nine years ago) he could be tennis’ most dominant player in 2020.

Nadal Looks More than Ready for another Brilliant Season

Don’t be fooled by the tough loss to Djokovic in the ATP Cup final. Instead be hopeful that Nadal is once again fit and playing at a top level. He was able to push Djokovic in the second set of their match in Sunday's final and, perhaps most important, he survived a very grueling week of tennis without getting worn down. Nadal will get some much needed down time and should be a factor in Australia and all season long.

Let's not forget how crucial this season is for the Spaniard--he begins it just one major title behind Roger Federer in the all-time major singles title race.

Nadal will have to be careful with his schedule this year. Adding ATP Cup and Olympics will make it tricky and he’ll have to be on the lookout for windows to step away and keep his body fresh.

Hello, Hubi!

Could this be a breakout year for Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz? If what we saw at ATP Cup is any indication, the 22-year-old could be ready to take another big step up the rankings (he's currently perched at 34, just one shy of his career-best 33). Hurkacz recorded three wins from three matches in Sydney, notching wins over Borna Coric, Diego Schwartzman and Dominic Thiem. Don't gloss over that last sentence, it was a massive week for Hurkacz.

He looks vastly improved from last year, which is saying a lot because he was pretty darn solid in 2019. Clearly his partnership with Craig Boynton is paying off and Hurkacz has every element of his game—mental and physical—clicking right now. Watch out for this young man in 2020.

Shapo’s Strong Start

On paper 2-2 in ATP Cup singles is nothing to write home about but look closely at Denis Shapovalov’s four singles rubbers at ATP Cup and you will see a player that is coming into his own. We know what kind of game-changing talent Shapovalov has, that’s never been a secret, but this year we are finally starting to see signs of shot tolerance and a more complete picture of the player Shapovalov might someday become. There’s also that inherent self-belief which seems to be back and bigger than ever after a trying 2019 – more good news.

Shapovalov pushed Djokovic to the brink and also knocked off Stefanos Tsitsipas at ATP Cup (he also beat Zverev). Even during his losses to Djokovic and Alex de Minaur he showed signs of mental toughness, resilience and the ability to back himself in tough moments. He even took a page from the Daniil Medvedev playbook and taunted the crowd on a few occasions when things were really intense. All in all, maybe not the best strategy, but a sign that Shapo is unwilling to let himself get pushed around this season. He is here for his piece of the pie, and he just might get it.

Dan Evans and Dusan Lajovic

Two players that have never claimed a top 20 ranking appear to be headed in that direction in 2020. Let’s start with Dan Evans, who played a few of the most riveting matches of the 2020 ATP Cup (to be fair there were like 15 true crackers) when he defeated David Goffin and Alex de Minaur. The Brit showed pugnacity in spades, but more important he let loose a truly dazzling stylistic brand of tennis. Evans is not the biggest guy, but boy does he have flow on a tennis court. Great all-court game.

The same could be said for Dusan Lajovic, the unsung hero of Serbia at ATP Cup. The 29-year-old ran out of steam against Roberto Bautista Agut (a common theme) in the final but stood tall on many occasions at ATP Cup and, like Evans, put a stylish, versatile game on display.

What’s up with Alexander Zverev? By far the biggest disappointment of the ATP Cup was Alexander Zverev. His serving troubles have taken over his psyche and it appears that he is going to need a lot of time to find his best tennis again. The good news is that he is young—and we know how talented he is when he is firing on all cylinders.

Felix Auger-Aliassime’s Slow Start

Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime has started slowly as well and the Canadian seems to be sorely lacking in the confidence department. It’s so easy to see, especially when he is juxtaposed with the self-assertive Shapovalov, that Felix is a player still very much in search of himself. He’s a gentler, more cerebral player and it appears he’ll need time to figure out the best way forward on a tennis court.

At times it felt like he was overthinking during his matches, not letting his game flow and instead forcing things. He made so many--too many--ill-advised forays to the net and produced a steady stream of unforced errors in most of his matches. FAA's shortcomings were exacerbated by his inability to project more positive body language on the court. He just seemed a bit boxed in, and his showing at ATP Cup is a warning to fans that are rushing their expectations with Auger-Aliassime—he’s young and still needs plenty of seasoning on tour.

The Best of Nick Kyrgios

It was beautiful to see Nick Kyrgios the entertainer and Nick Kyrgios the tennis player merged for a week at ATP Cup. Add in the philanthropic element and it was even better to watch NK taking charge and doing what he was meant to do in the sport. Forget about his troubling loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the ATP Cup semis and instead remember Kyrgios taking the reins in the Rally for Relief and creating a magical moment with Alex de Minaur as Australia toppled Great Britain in one of the best doubles match tiebreaks that we’ve seen in a long time.

We just want to see Kyrgios play with that spirit as often as possible because it was a joy to watch.

On Court Coaching and Player Pods? Yes, Please

Look, we get it that tennis is a sport for nomads and on-court coaching goes against the grain of that sentiment. But we also know that, every so often, for special events like the ATP Cup, it is flat-out awesome. And think of the value that it adds not only to the competition (great made for TV moments) but to the player’s careers. How good is it that Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov got to spend ten days with Marat Safin, living and learning from the former No.1? Even better is the fact that Medvedev and Khachanov’s coaches got to pick the brain of Safin about their players as well.

This free exchange of information, tactics and energy simply cannot be a bad thing for the players. They get second set of eyeballs on their game and a chance to step off the island and open their game up to legends.

Lleyton Hewitt, Gaston Gaudio, Boris Becker, Safin and others all added invaluable intangibles to the event.

Unsung Heroes

We loved seeing players like Dimitar Kuzmanov and Kacper Zuk play important matches for their nations. Just like in Davis Cup, the fact that a high profile event gives so many lesser-known players a chance to play big matches on big stages is great for the development of a next generation of stars.

It was also great to see Casper Ruud leading Norway, and scoring big wins. It was amazing to see John Millman step in for Australian in his hometown of Brisbane. Alexander Cozbinov of Moldova turned a lot of heads as well. The guy is outside of the Top 800, and watching him really served to illuminate the fact that players inside the Top 1000 have an immense amount of talent.

 

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