The ATP Cup is being lauded by Novak Djokovic as a ‘perfect’ preparation for the Australian Open, although Australia’s Alex de Minaur may disagree given he’s claiming a rib injury will force him out of this week’s Adelaide International.
The 20-year-old was the top seed at the tournament after world No.2 Djokovic withdrew at the weekend, citing his heavy workload at the ATP Cup.
De Minaur pushed world No.1 Rafael Nadal to three sets in Australia’s ATP Cup semi-final loss, but it is not known whether the injury is serious enough to cast any doubt about his Australian Open participation.
The ATP Cup format has been hailed by players and fans for reinvigorating the early summer tennis fare, but there may be some fine tuning needed, given the oxygen that was sucked from other events around the country – including the women’s singles at the Brisbane International.
The Adelaide event has now also been left without its two biggest male headliners.
Djokovic soaked up the ATP Cup success with his teammates on Sydney Harbour on Monday, having notched his ninth consecutive hardcourt win over world No.1 Rafael Nadal in Sunday night’s ATP Cup final.
He heads to Melbourne Park seeking a record-extending eighth title having also bested 2019 US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev, former Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson, young guns Denis Shapovalov and Christian Garin and world No.10 Gael Monfils.
“It is the perfect preparation,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t know what to expect from the event.
“Obviously I didn’t know how deep we would go and I was hoping we would pass the group stages and see how it goes.
But these kind of team competitions are really truly special and I’m personally over the cloud with my emotions, and hopefully I can take that positive energy and use it for Australian Open.”
The clinical manner in which Djokovic dealt with Nadal in the grand old stagers’ 55th career showdown marked the world No.2 as clearly the man to beat at the year’s first grand slam.
But the 16-time major winner is taking nothing for granted, especially after being pushed all the way in colossal three-setters against Shapovalov and Medvedev in Sydney.
Despite looking invincible on hard courts against all-comers, Djokovic also pointed to his fourth-round US Open exit as reason to tread carefully.
“I mean, look, last hard court grand slam was in New York, and Rafa won it,” he said.
“So I think it’s really open, the Australian Open or any other slam. I don’t think there are really clear favourites.
“You have obviously Federer, Nadal, myself because of the experience and everything and the rankings that we get to be probably named the top three favourites, but then you have Medvedev, (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem that are really showing some amazing tennis.”
“London Masters was an example where they showed that they matured on the big stage, that they can challenge the best players in the world and win against them.
“So everybody keeps on talking about NextGen player winning a slam. It seems like it’s getting closer. Hopefully not this year. We’ll see.
“Obviously Australian Open has been my favourite tournament.
“It’s the tournament where I played my best tennis, so I can’t wait to go back to Rod Laver Arena and hopefully have another great tournament.”
The Open draw will take place on Thursday night, with Nadal, Djokovic and Federer – with 14 titles between them – the top three men’s seeds for the 10th time and third-straight year.
Federer has stayed at home in Switzerland training and said on the weekend he was satisfied with his fitness heading into the opening slam of the year despite not playing a match since November.
“I’ve trained long and hard in the off-season and I didn’t have any setbacks, which is crucial,” Federer said.
Spain and Serbia squared off in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup, with Djokovic defeating Nadal in straight sets – as he did in last year’s Australian Open final.
Federer said he’d been keeping a close eye on both rivals, with Djokovic gunning for a record-extending eighth Australian Open.
“Both guys are already showing great signs,” Federer said. “I was watching a little bit of their ATP Cup match and thought that was a great match.
“Both guys, injury free, are always tough to beat.”
Medvedev’s four ATP Cup wins to Thiem’s one helped the Russian leapfrog the Austrian into fourth place in the world rankings, earning him a vital top-four seeding for the Open, meaning he can’t face any of the big three until at least the semi-finals.