World No.1 Rafael Nadal is hungry for more team success as Spain starts as hot favourites to win the inaugural $22 million, 24-nation event ATP.
With significant prize money, ranking points, and national pride on the line, the new tournament in Perth, Brisbane, and Sydney holds more importance than the now-defunct Hopman Cup or other warm-up events for the Australian Open.
Nadal has the chance to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 grand slam titles when he competes at the Australian Open later this month.
But the 33-year-old, who spearheaded Spain’s title-winning Davis Cup campaign in November, insists all of his focus is on the ATP Cup, where he’ll team up with world No.9 Roberto Bautista Agut.
“We are not taking this competition like preparation for another one, even if the Australian Open is around the corner,” Nadal said.
“It’s a tournament that we want to compete well in, and then we’ll have a week before the Australian Open for me personally to practice and for some of the others to play in Auckland or Adelaide.
“So we are very focused on trying to be ready for this competition.
“We are a team that gives the maximum. But there are other teams that are also prepared for that.”
Meanwhile Novak Djokovic has a record eighth Australian Open title is in his sights after the world No.2 claimed the ATP Cup will provide the ideal preparation for the opening grand slam of 2020.
Djovokic admits he has not yet acclimatised to the Australian heat after arriving in Brisbane this week to represent Serbia in the inaugural 24-team ATP Cup starting on Friday.
But the 16-time grand slam winner was relishing a chance to usher in the New Year in Australia, saying it would prove invaluable for his title defence at Melbourne Park later this month.
Djokovic traditionally starts the year at the star-studded Qatar Open but had no complaints about tweaking his schedule in order to contest the ATP Cup in Brisbane.
Serbia will meet France, Chile and South Africa in their pool while Australia, Canada, Greece and Germany will also feature at Pat Rafter Arena before a finals series in Sydney.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios was in vintage form on Wednesday, saying he’d kept fit so far in 2020 while also enjoying a few “frothies” in the lead-up to the ATP Cup.
Fronting the media ahead of Australia’s Group F battle in Brisbane against Germany, Greece and Canada, the 24 year-old seemingly had few concerns about injuries – or the huge suspended ban hanging over him this year.
“I have had no injuries of yet this year,” quipped the world No.30, whose recurring collarbone problem forced him out of Australia’s Davis Cup quarter-final rubber against Canada in November.
“I have had one session; the body held up well.”
Having raised eyebrows when he was seen drinking until 11.30pm the night before he lost last year’s second round Wimbledon clash to Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios could have been forgiven for keeping quiet his New Year’s celebrations.
But he was quite happy to elaborate on that too.
“I had a couple of frothies last night, I am feeling good,” he said.
Nadal said he was still shaking off jet lag after arriving in Perth in the early hours of Monday morning.
But he’s adamant he will be ready to fire in time for Spain’s opening tie against Georgia at RAC Arena on Saturday night.
Nadal’s scheduled blockbuster clash with world No.13 Kei Nishikori next week now won’t go ahead after the Japanese star pulled out of the Australian summer with an elbow injury.
“That’s part of our sport, and the negative part of our beautiful sport – the injuries,” Nadal said.
“I wish him a good recovery.”
Nadal followed in the footsteps of Federer by taking a selfie with a quokka on Wednesday during a government-sponsored trip to Rottnest Island.
“They are super friendly, not too scared to be close to people,” Nadal said of the quokkas.
“We had some fun with them.”