Alex de Minaur and Nick Kyrgios lead Australia into battle against a German team spearheaded by Alexander Zverev as the two nations do battle in the ATP Cup in Brisbane on Friday night.
Australia and Germany get their ATP Cup campaigns underway in Brisbane on Friday night in what is a rematch of a Davis Cup tie played on this very court two years ago.
Zverev masterminded Australia’s demise that weekend after conquering both Kyrgios and de Minaur – will it be a repeat result inside Pat Rafter Arena, or can the home nation claim their revenge?
AUSTRALIA ??: 1. Alex de Minaur 2. Nick Kyrgios 3. John Millman 4. John Peers 5. Chris Guccione. Captain: Lleyton Hewitt.
GERMANY ??: 1. Alexander Zverev 2. Jan-Lennard Struff 3. Mats Moraing 4. Kevin Krawietz 5. Andreas Mies. Captain: Boris Becker.
Rubber 1: Jan-Lennard Struff (??) vs Nick Kyrgios (??), live from Brisbane at 5.30pm local time (7.30am GMT)
Kyrgios and Struff also squared off on Pat Rafter Arena two years ago, with the Australian registering a routine 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory – however, his German rival is coming off a career-best season and is amongst one of the most powerful players in the game.
Struff, in my eyes, has got be counted as one of the best active players that hasn’t reached an ATP Final. Equipped with a monstrous serve and explosive groundstrokes, Struff has been underachieving for the bulk of his career, but he managed to find some consistency in 2019 as he registered a 35-29 win-loss record, including earning five wins over top 10 players.
The 29-year-old reached semi-finals in Auckland and Stuttgart, quarter-finals in Barcelona and Basel and advanced to the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at Roland Garros after outlasting Borna Coric 11-9 in the fifth. Taking that next step and making an ATP final will be the main goal for Struff in 2020 after extending his unwanted record in semi-finals to 0-7 last year.
Meanwhile, Kyrgios could do with finding some of Struff’s consistency in 2020, because if he can focus and play week in and week out, he’s undoubtedly a top 10 player at the very least. But that’s always going to be the problem for Kyrgios, who seems content with peaking at a couple of tournaments each season to keep his ranking afloat – which he did at the 500-level events in Acapulco and Washington in 2019, winning both titles with some jaw-dropping tennis.
It seems like we keep waiting for Kyrgios to better his Wimbledon and Australian Open quarter-finals from 2014 and 2015, but the reality is that he’s not fit enough to play for two weeks in best-of-five-set matches. However, in best-of-three and in a team format like the ATP Cup, there isn’t too many more dangerous players on tour.
Don’t be surprised if we see multiple tiebreaks in this one, but if Kyrgios is focused and fit, this is a match he should be winning in this sort of environment.
Rubber 2: Alexander Zverev (??) vs Alex de Minaur (??), live from Brisbane around 7.00pm local time (9.00am GMT)
One of the best matches during Day 1 of the ATP Cup sees a top 20 battle between the No. 1 players of each country.
Zverev will be determined for a much better 2020 season than last year, with the German slipping from No. 3 to No. 7 and winning just the solitary title at the lowly 250 meet in Geneva.
The 22-year-old repeatedly alluded to off-court distractions, primarily a messy dispute with his former agent, as the catalyst behind his dip in form, but there’s only so much time one can use that as an excuse, and if Zverev continues to struggle over the first couple of months of the season, the pressure is only going to intensify.
It’s not as if Zverev had a poor year by any means – he won over 40 matches, beat Rafael Nadal at the ATP Finals, made the French Open quarter-finals for a second time and finished runner-up at the Shanghai Masters and ATP 500 Acapulco. However, Zverev needs to figure out how to get the best out of himself at Grand Slam level if he wants to take his game to the next level.
De Minaur is also hoping to take that next step at the majors after registering his best result at the U.S. Open last season, beating Kei Nishikori on his way to the fourth round, where he went down to Grigor Dimitrov.
The 20-year-old battled a groin and hip injury for almost a quarter of the season, which makes his year-end ranking of No. 18 all the more remarkable, with de Minaur winning three ATP 250 titles in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai, beating the likes of Andy Murray, Borna Coric and Roberto Bautista Agut at the latter.
Qualifying for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan for the second year running, de Minaur finished runner-up for the second time, losing out to Italian sensation Jannik Sinner in the final.
As mentioned, Zverev and de Minaur met on this very court two years ago as the German prevailed in five sets, but since then Zverev has absolutely dominated this match-up, winning their last three meetings in convincing straight sets. De Minaur has improved and developed more power and weight of shot since their last clash 11 months ago in Acapulco, but Zverev remains the favourite.
Rubber 3 – Doubles – teams to be confirmed, live from Brisbane around 9.00pm local time (11.00am GMT)
Both teams have doubles specialists in their ranks, so they don’t have to rely on their singles stars to play twice. John Peers of Australia has been one of the world’s most consistent doubles performers for a long time now, while the big-serving Chris Guccione is another option for Lleyton Hewitt as the left-hander makes his comeback from a lengthy stint on the sidelines with injury.
Meanwhile, Kevin Krawietz and Andrea Mies are the No. 9 and No. 11 ranked players in doubles respectively and are likely to team up for Germany after beating Chile and Argentina together at the Davis Cup Finals in November.