Home nation, Australia take on Davis Cup champions, Spain in the second semi-final of the inaugural ATP Cup on Saturday night.
Both countries needed all three rubbers to get through their respective semi-finals, with Australia beating Great Britain and Spain overcoming Belgium.
Spain were pushed to a deciding doubles rubber for the first time in this tournament following Rafael Nadal’s surprise loss to David Goffin, but the world No. 1 made up for that defeat in the doubles, partnering Pablo Carreno Busta to a tight three-set win over the Belgian duo of Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen. Australia also survived a major scare in their quarter final against the Brits, with Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur saving four match points before seeing off Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray in a dramatic doubles rubber.
Will it be Australia to move into the final of the ATP Cup, or can Nadal fire Spain into a second team final in less than two months?
SPAIN ??: 1. Rafael Nadal 2. Roberto Bautista Agut 3. Pablo Carreno Busta 4. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 5. Feliciano Lopez. Captain: Francisco Roig.
AUSTRALIA ??: 1. Alex de Minaur 2. Nick Kyrgios 3. John Millman 4. John Peers 5. Chris Guccione. Captain: Lleyton Hewitt.
Rubber 1: Nick Kyrgios (AUS) vs Roberto Bautista-Agut (SPA), live from Sydney from 6:30pm local time/ 7:30am GMT
Nick Kyrgios and Roberto Bautista-Agut put their unbeaten ATP Cup records on the line when they face off in the opening rubber of this semi-final on Saturday night.
Kyrgios has never hidden his admiration for team competitions, and he has been right at home in the ATP Cup, playing a key role in Australia’s progress into the semi-finals.
Kyrgios is 3-0 in his singles matches, beating Jan-Lennard Struff and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the round-robin phase of the competition, before powering past Cameron Norrie in straight sets in the quarter finals. The serve has unsurprisingly been the foundation of Kyrgios’s successes in Australia. The 24-year-old missed Australia’s second group match against Canada with a back injury, but he still leads the tournament in number of aces with 57, and has only been broken once, saving seven of the eight break points he’s had to face.
Kyrgios also had to put in some doubles shift for Australia in their quarter final against Great Britain, partnering Alex De Minaur to secure a dramatic three-set win over Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray. Can the world No. 29 give Australia a crucial lead by taking down Bautista-Agut on Saturday?
Bautista-Agut has been in cruise control in Australia, easing through his matches without breaking sweat, but this is by far his biggest challenge yet in the tournament.
All of his previous opponents have been ranked outside the world’s top-100, with one of them, Uruguay’s Franco Roncadelli, being unranked. He has also beaten world No. 678, Aleksandre Metreveli (whom he destroyed 6-0 6-0), world No. 119, Go Soeda and world No. 158, Kimmer Coppejans. It’s of course not Bautista-Agut’s fault that he’s had a virtual free pass through the tournament, and he’s done exactly what is required of him- win to set Spain off to winning starts.
Can he now raise his game to deal with the considerably greater threat posed by Kyrgios?
He’s perfectly capable of that, like he showed last season, when he recorded some career milestones, including making a maiden Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, and breaking into the world’s top-ten.
The world No. 10 was beaten by Kyrgios in their only previous meeting, falling 6-4 6-2 to the Australian in Tokyo 2015 in less than an hour. A lot has changed since then, especially with late bloomer, Bautista-Agut, who has developed into one of the most consistent players on the tour. He may not have the power and flashy shot-making skills of Kyrgios, but he is an extremely difficult man to break down and hardly gives nothing away. This will be a big test of Kyrgios’ discipline.
This match is in Kyrgios’ racket- if he serves as well as he can, he will be incredibly difficult to break, and will always get his chances on Bautista-Agut’s serve. I think the Aussie will be fired up for this one, like he’s been all tournament and will give his country the lead in this semi-final.
Alex De Minaur (AUS) vs Rafael Nadal (SPA), live from Sydney from 8:00pm local time/ 9:00pm GMT
World No. 1, Rafael Nadal seeks his third consecutive win over Alex De Minaur when he takes on young Aussie, Alex De Minaur in the second rubber of this ATP Cup semi-final.
Because of Nadal’s dominant record against De Minaur, it has been speculated that the Australians may rest De Minaur for this tie so that they can match up Nick Kyrgios with Nadal, but it does look like Aussie captain, Lleyton Hewitt will go with his biggest guns in the singles, and rightly so in my opinion.
Nadal recorded identical 6-1 6-2 6-4 victories over De Minaur in their two previous matches at Wimbledon 2018 and the 2019 Australian Open. Spain’s ATP Cup fate will require the great man to maintain that winning record if Bautista-Agut fails to get a result against Kyrgios in the first rubber of the tie. The same logic applies to De Minaur, of course. If Bautista-Agut beats Kyrgios, the young gun must find a way to take down Nadal to keep the hosts’ hopes alive.
The great news for Alex De Minaur and Australia is that Nadal is not invincible after all, as proven by the Spaniard’s 6-4 7-6 defeat to David Goffin in the semi-finals on Friday. Nadal had compiled a 3-0 singles record in the round-robin phase of the competition, beating Nikoloz Basilashvili, Pablo Cuevas and Yoshihito Nishioka in straight sets, but his perfect record was soiled by the brilliant Goffin on Friday night.
With the Spaniards facing a must-win doubles tie, Nadal was unsurprisingly back on court to partner Pablo Carreno Busta, and the Spanish pair just about held off the Belgians, battling back from a set down to defeat Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen 6-7 7-5 10-7.
“Coming from Perth we didn’t have a lot of time to adapt and today the conditions were very heavy with humidity. Playing against David in the singles was a very difficult thing. But we are super happy to be in the semi-finals,” Nadal said. “We’re excited to play a very tough one against Australia. We will give our best like we have done all through our careers.”
David Goffin played a very aggressive brand against Nadal on Friday, taking the ball early and attacking regularly down the line to keep the great Spaniard on the back foot. De Minaur has got to mirror that performance if he is to stand any chance against the 19-time major winner on Saturday.
The Australian has had a very good tournament, beating top-15 players, Alexander Zverev and Denis Shapovalov to help the home nation secure top spot in Group F. He lost a tight one against Daniel Evans in the quarter finals, falling 7-6 4-6 7-6 after a 3-hour 24-minute epic, but he showed great character to turn out for the decisive doubles rubber, along with Kyrgios, helping the Aussies over the line in dramatic circumstances.
De Minaur has risen sharply over the last couple of seasons, claiming titles in Sydney, Atlanta and Zhuhai in 2019, and ending the year at No. 18 in the world. He is a fierce competitor, and will definitely bring the fight to Nadal in Sydney on Saturday.
Unfortunately, I think this will be a losing battle for the young Australian.
Rubber 3: Teams to be confirmed, to follow singles rubbers after suitable rest
Australian captain, Lleyton Hewitt altered his doubles selection in the quarter finals, throwing in Nick Kyrgios and Alex De Minaur in place of John Peers and Chris Guccione, both of whom had played and won the previous three matches. Will he go for the same trick on Saturday if this tie comes down to a deciding doubles rubber?
I think he will definitely select Kyrgios, with one of De Minaur or Peers as his likely partner.
One thing is for sure. If the Spaniards need to win the doubles rubber to get into the ATP Cup final, Rafael Nadal is definitely playing. With Nadal and Kyrgios likely to feature in the doubles rubber, this really is a toss-up between the two sides.