Canada take on Greece in one of the feature matches taking place on Day 1 of the inaugural ATP Cup in Brisbane on Friday.
Tennis is officially back for 2020 as the ATP Cup gets underway across three cities in Australia on Friday – and one of the stand-out ties on Day 1 sees a Greek team led by World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas coming up against emerging powerhouse Canada, headlined by rising stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
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GREECE ??: 1. Stefanos Tsitsipas 2. Michail Pervolarakis 3. Markos Kalovelonis 4. Petros Tsitsipas 5. Alexandros Skorilas. Captain: Apostolos Tsitsipas.
CANADA ??: 1. Denis Shapovalov 2. Felix Auger-Aliassime 3. Steven Diez 4. Adil Shamasdin 5. Peter Polansky. Captain: Adriano Fuorivia.
Rubber 1: Felix Auger-Aliassime (??) vs Michail Pervolarakis (??), live from Brisbane at 10.00am local time (12.00am GMT)
Teenage sensation Auger-Aliassime will be the heavy favourite to get Canada off to a winning start when he squares off against Pervolarakis, the World No. 487, who has yet to play a match at tour-level so far in his career.
Auger-Aliassime was one of the big stories of the 2019 season, vaulting from outside the top 100 and into the top 20, achieving a career-high ranking 13 times throughout the year before settling at No. 21. The 19-year-old has been tipped for superstardom ever since breaking a bunch of Challenger records a few years ago, and Auger-Aliassime showed why last year, becoming the youngest top 25 player since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999 as he reached ATP finals in Rio de Janeiro, Lyon and Stuttgart, while he also reached the Miami Masters semi-finals.
The youngest ATP 500 finalist in the history of the series and the youngest Miami Masters semi-finalist in 35 years, Auger-Aliassime solidified himself as one of the brightest young stars in tennis, but the challenge now is to avoid second-year syndrome, back up everything he achieved in 2019 and continue his charge up the rankings.
Meanwhile, Pervolarakis will be buzzing to simply rub shoulders with ATP stars in Brisbane. The ATP Cup certainly has its flaws, but one of the nice things about it is the fact lower-ranked players get the chance to mingle and compete against the best players in the world – and Pervolarakis will be determined to make an impact and learn as much as he can.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Cyprus, earned his career-high ranking of No. 433 in October 2019, but as mentioned, has yet to play a match on the ATP World Tour. Pervolarakis isn’t even an established Challenger player yet, with the Greek spending the bulk of his time on the third-tier Futures circuit, winning two titles in Heraklion, Greece last year.
It will be an incredible experience for Pervolarakis, but I’m afraid this is going to be a very one-sided affair. Auger-Aliassime is fresh after limping to the finish line last year and will be fit and raring to go in his first match of the season. Canada is set to take a 1-0 lead heading into the second rubber.
Rubber 2: Denis Shapovalov (??) vs Stefanos Tsitsipas (??), live from Brisbane around 11.30am local time (1.30am GMT)
Arguably the pick of the matches during Day 1 of the ATP Cup, two of the best young players in tennis collide in Brisbane as World No. 6 Tsitsipas meets World No. 15 Shapovalov.
Tsitsipas compiled a magnificent season in 2019, and it all started in Australia as he conquered Roger Federer en route to his first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open. Cheered on by Melbourne’s large Greek community, Tsitsipas laid the foundation for what was to come throughout the season as he won three ATP titles in Marseille, Estoril and the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, where he beat the likes of Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem to land the biggest trophy of his young career.
Also a runner-up in Madrid, Beijing and Dubai, Tsitsipas put together a 54-25 record for the season as he finished at No. 6 in the world, becoming the youngest player to earn wins over Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer. Still just 21 years of age, Tsitsipas seems primed to make a breakthrough at Grand Slam level in 2020 – can he get his year off to a winning start on Friday?
He’ll have to be operating at the peak of his powers from the get-go, because Shapovalov also appears destined for a big 2020. Making his first big breakthrough in 2017 when he beat Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro to become the youngest player to reach a Masters 1000 semi-final since 1990 when he did so at home in Montreal, Shapovalov struggled in 2018 as he came to terms with life as an ATP Tour regular at such a young age.
However, Shapovalov settled during the back-half of 2019, especially after linking up with new coach Mikhail Youzhny. The 20-year-old won his first ATP title in Stockholm and went on to reach his maiden Masters 1000 final in Paris, going down to Djokovic. Shapovalov also reached semi-finals in Miami, Winston-Salem and Chengdu as he finished the year at a career-high No. 15 in the world.
Shapovalov brings a 2-1 head-to-head record over Tsitsipas into this clash, winning both of their hardcourt meetings at the 2018 Australian Open and 2019 Miami Masters, while the Greek prevailed on the clay of Monte-Carlo in 2018. That R16 encounter in Miami was an incredibly tight one, with Shapovalov winning in a deciding set tiebreaker, and this one should be every bit as competitive. It’s essential Tsitsipas wins all of his matches if Greece are to make the knockout stage, and that pressure may contribute to the outcome of the match. If Shapovalov can play like he did towards the end of 2019, he’s an excellent chance to seal the tie for Canada.
Rubber 3: Doubles – teams to be confirmed, live from Brisbane around 2.00pm local time (4.00am GMT)
The doubles pairings are yet to be determined at the time of writing, but there’s an intriguing possibility that Tsitsipas could team up with his younger brother Petros, while Canada also have the option of calling upon the services of Steven Diez, Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin.