The reborn ATP Cup definitely stands out from the crowd. The new addition to the Australian Summer of Tennis has sensationally revitalised the lead-in to the first grand slam of the year. The three-city, 10 day tournament has seen the world’s best male players in some terrific encounters – which, until now, has been unseen so early in the tennis year. The new format, with high-quality and meaningful tennis, has been a win for fans, and give the players the perfect environment ahead of the Australian Open. Over 200,000 fans attending the tournament cannot be wrong.
I had the pleasure of attending semi-finals day at the Ken Rosewall Arena at Sydney’s Olympic Park. The two ties for the day were – (1) Serbia v Russia (day session), and (2) Australia v Spain in a sold-out night session. Having attended the Australia v Canada quarter-final and the Spain v Great Britain semi-final at the reimagined Davis Cup in November in Spain, I was interested to see how the two events compared, especially as there has been much discussion in tennis circles as to whether the Davis Cup and ATP Cup should be combined given the cluttered ATP calendar. While there were some good elements to the Davis Cup (you can read my review of it here) there were some gaping holes that need filling if that tournament is to grow and thrive.
The ATP Cup Finals 8 Venue
As I made my way down Olympic Boulevard into the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre, there were large signs promoting the #ATPCup’s tagline “For the love of country”, while the entry gantry had welcome messages in different languages from the countries competing – a nice touch.
Entering the precinct, there was a buzz around the grounds, which was well decked out with a set of premium concession stalls (rather than just your typical fried food offerings at sporting events). There was a nice lawn area outside the Arena where sponsors such as Marriott Bonvoy had their activations, along with a seating area (under shades) for patrons to sit back and watch the tennis on a big screen on a summery day in Sydney. To start the day, I sat on the lawn with coffee in-hand watching the tennis on the big screen. It was a nice way to warm-into 12 hours of tennis watching!
It is also worth mentioning that concessions stands were not the only food offering. Similar to the #AusOpen set-up, there was a pop-up restaurant of the famed “Rockpool Bar & Grill”. This made for a lovely afternoon lunch/dinner experience before the evening’s matches got underway.
By contrast, the Davis Cup had nowhere near this “event” atmosphere. The concession stand area was outdoors (it was winter so very cold) and there were no video screens or scoreboards to allow patrons getting a bite to eat to keep up with the action that was unfolding in the Magic Box.
The Tennis Action
Turning to the action inside Ken Rosewall Arena, the first semi-final saw Serbia take on Russia. While the stadium wasn’t full (maybe half-full), it had a great atmosphere and the tennis was at a great level as Serbia did the business by winning both singles’ rubbers. It actually felt like a home-tie for Serbia – given the number and noise of the Serbian fans in attendance!
As the time approached 6pm, those in attendance in Serbian colours began to dissipate and the colours of green and gold (with a smattering of Spanish colours) filled the Arena precinct. When the doors to the Arena opened for the evening’s tie pitting Australia against Spain, the Arena was pumping. While Nick Kyrgios had an off-night against the workman-like and ever reliable Batista-Agut, 20 year-old Alex Di Minuar got the house rocking (nearly taking off the new roof, and (according to my Apple Watch) generating crowd noise of 95+ dB) by taking it to world #1 Rafael Nadal. While Di Minuar ultimately lost in three sets, he was playing at a higher level than Nadal for the first two sets (Nadal was lucky to pinch the second set).
All-in-all the semi-final day experience at the #ATPCup was excellent and I think that Tennis Australia and the ATP are on a winner with this event format. The tournament as a whole has given context and meaning to the first couple of weeks of the Australian Summer of Tennis, with top-flight and patriotic tennis being played across Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. No one is missing the Mens ATP 250 action that previously graced the Brisbane and Sydney courts.
While the Davis Cup has heritage, the ATP Cup has tour points on offer and can offer the top players the perfect build up to the first grand slam of the year. This scheduling advantage for the ATP Cup cannot be understated. If the new Davis Cup format is to survive (and my view is that more teams tennis is a good thing), it needs to move from the late November time slot. Playing the tournament finals on a sole indoor court in Europe in early winter is far from ideal and detracts from the atmosphere of the event, especially as the ATP Tour has already culminated with the ATP Finals. The Davis Cup needs to find another spot on the calendar.
Talks of combining the Davis Cup and ATP Cup should be forgotten. Tennis Australia now has the opportunity to own the entire month of January with the ATP Cup as a stand-alone teams events, followed by the Australian Open. If Tennis Australia and the WTA can create a similar WTA Cup event for the women, there will be a great festival of tennis across January in Australia.
While Australia has always had the Aussie Open, it has lacked another major tennis event, unlike say Italy that has had the Rome Masters, Next Gen Finals in Milan and soon the ATP Finals in Turin.
If you didn’t get a chance to make it to the ATP Cup this year, take the chance next year!