Bulgaria will attempt to maintain their perfect record in Group C of the ATP Cup, and clinch qualification for the quarter finals when they take on Belgium on Tuesday.
Spearheaded by former world No. 3, Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarians have already beaten Great Britain and Moldova in this tournament, and will qualify as for the last eight as group winners if they take down Belgium in Sydney.
Belgium have a 1-1 record from their two matches, following an opening day victory over Moldova and defeat to Great Britain in their second group match. David Goffin and his men are still very much in the qualifying picture, and can still win the group with a heavy win on Tuesday.
Bulgaria: 1. Grigor Dimitrov 2. Dimitar Kuzmanov 3. Alexandar Lazarov 4. Alexander Donski 5. Adrian Andreev. Captain: Grigor Dimitrov.
Belgium: 1. David Goffin, 2. Steve Darcis, 3. Kimmer Coppejans, 4. Joran Vliegen, 5. Sander Gille. Captain: Steve Darcis
Rubber 1: Dimitar Kuzmanov vs Steve Darcis, live on Tuesday from 5:30pm local time/ 6:30am GMT
Can Steve Darcis make it three wins out of three in the round robin phase of the ATP Cup and give Belgium the early lead against Bulgaria? The veteran Belgian is up against Dimitar Kuzmanov in the first rubber on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old also doubles as the captain of the side, and he has definitely lead from the front.
Darcis has announced his plans to retire after this year’s Australian Open, and on the evidence of his performances at the ATP Cup, the Belgian appears determined to go out with a big bang.
The world No. 200 outlasted Alexander Cozbinov in a three-hour, three-set battle in his opening match to set Belgium on their way to a 3-0 victory over Moldova, while he was outstanding in his second match against world No. 52, Cameron Norrie, outclassing the Brit, 6-2 6-4. Unfortunately, Belgium went on to lose the that 2-1.
He will fancy his chances of registering another win when he takes on Dimitar Kuzmanov on Tuesday.
Kuzmanov fell in three sets to Cameron Norrie in his opening match, but he responded with a 6-1 7-5 victory over Alexander Cozbinov in his second group match. That also doubled as his maiden tour-level victory.
The 26-year-old is currently ranked 417th in the world, but he has been as high as 249th, a mark he reached in 2018. Kuzmanov was on the ITF and Challenger tours for most of last year, winning a couple of M15 titles in Antalya and another in Doha at the end of the year.
Kuzmanov and Darcis have met before, back in 2016 at the Marburg Challenger. The Bulgarian held a 6-3 lead before Darcis retired. I reckon this tie can actually go either way, but with the form Darcis has shown this week, and the confidence he must have derived from that superb win over Cameron Norrie a couple of days ago, the smart money will be on the Belgian.
Rubber 2: Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) vs David Goffin (BEL), live from Sydney 7:00pm local time/ 8:00am GMT
Former top-ten stars, Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin go head-to-head in the second rubber of this ties, with a lot on the line in Sydney.
Depending on the outcome of the earlier match, one of these heavyweights will get the chance to win the tie for his country, while the other faces a must-win scenario if his country is to have extended interest in the FA Cup.
Dimitrov, who also functions as team captain, has marshalled his troops very well, winning both of his singles matches and contributing in the doubles. He opened with a come-from-behind three-set victory over Daniel Evans, while he eased past Moldovan No. 1, Radu Albot 6-2 6-3 in his second group match.
Dimitrov also featured in the doubles rubbers in both matches, partnering Alexander Lazarov to secure a dramatic tie-clinching victory over Great Britain. The Bulgarian pair lost to Moldova in their second doubles match.
Dimitrov’s good form is a continuation of a resurgence that started late last year. After winning the Nitto ATP Finals in 2017, rising to No. 3 in the world, the Bulgarian lost his way, and was down at 78th at the start of the US Open, but he salvaged his ranking with a semi-final run at Flushing Meadows and another semi at the Paris Masters later in the year. He was back in the top 20 by the end of the year.
Goffin was the beaten finalist when Dimitrov won the Nitto ATP Finals title in 2017, and while the Belgian’s slide hasn’t been as bad as Dimitrov’s, he has also not been able to reproduce that sort of level on a consistent basis over the last couple of seasons.
Goffin was down at 22nd at the end of 2018, but he fought his way back to the brink of the top 10 in 2019, ending at No. 11 in the world. He made a couple of finals last season, in Halle and Cincinnati, while he reached semi-finals Tokyo, Estoril and Marseille. The 29-year-old also reached the quarter finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round of the US Open.
The former world No. 7 eased to a 6-4 6-1 victory over Radu Albot in his ATP Cup opener, but he fell to Daniel Evans in his second match, as Belgium lost 2-1 to Great Britain.
He will be keen to redeem himself on Tuesday, but it will not be easy as he faces the in-form Dimitrov. The Bulgarian holds an 8-1 advantage, and has won their last five meetings. It’s a contest between two fine movers, but Dimitrov’s greater athleticism and shot-making abilities have proven too good for Goffin over the years. That could well be the case again on Tuesday.
Rubber 3: Grigor Dimitrov/ Dimitar Kuzmanov (BUL) vs Sander Gille/ Joran Vliegel (BEL), to follow after suitable rest
Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Lazarov have been on doubles duty for Bulgaria in this tournament, but that could change on Tuesday, with Kuzmanov set to partner his captain. Belgium ae likely to be unchanged, with Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen set to continue.