Three top 20 players will feature in Perth on Day 1 of the ATP Cup as a strong Russian team captained by Marat Safin takes on Italy, led by the enigmatic Fabio Fognini.
An intriguing tussle awaits at the ATP Cup in Perth on Friday night as Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov of Russia square off against an Italian side headlined by the unpredictable Fabio Fognini.
Speaking of mercurial talents, fans will get the chance to see Marat Safin in the flesh once again as he captains the Russian outfit – can he guide his charges to a victory on the opening day of the 2020 season?
Two days to go, two days to prepare.
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 1, 2020
RUSSIA (??): 1. Daniil Medvedev 2. Karen Khachanov 3. Teymuraz Gabashvili 4. Ivan Nedelko 5. Konstantin Kravchuk. Captain: Marat Safin.
ITALY (??): 1. Fabio Fognini 2. Stefano Travaglia 3. Simone Bolelli 4. Paolo Lorenzi 5. Alessandro Giannessi. Captain: Vincenzo Santopadre.
Rubber 1: Karen Khachanov (??) vs Stefano Travaglia (??), live from Perth at 5.30pm local time (9.30am GMT)
Khachanov will be determined to get his season off to a dominant and winning note after a relatively disappointing 2019 campaign in which he slipped from No. 8 in July to a year-end mark of No. 17.
The powerful Russian ended 2018 on a high as he won his first Masters 1000 title in Paris, but he suffered from illness and injury at the start of 2019 and never truly got going, failing to reach a final and losing in the opening round of his Paris Masters title defence to Jan-Lennard Struff, losing 990 ranking points as a result.
Khachanov’s best results included semi-final finishes at the Montreal Masters and 500-level China Open, while he was also a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros and Indian Wells. While those are solid results for the bulk of players, they aren’t good enough for a player that was considered a genuine threat to push towards the top five last season and make it to the latter stages of slams.
The talent and weaponry is certainly there, but Khachanov suffered from poor consistency in 2019 and he will need to work on finding his best tennis week in and week out in order to establish a presence at the very top of the game.
Meanwhile, Travaglia is coming off a career-best season in 2019 in which he broke into the world’s top 100 for the first time in his career, peaking at No. 79 in August.
The 28-year-old earned the biggest win of his career when he beat ATP Cup teammate Fabio Fognini to reach his first tour-level quarter-final in Umag, while he also qualified for four consecutive Grand Slams and registered a 37-19 record at Challenger level, claiming titles in Francavilla and Sopot and finishing runner-up in Shymkent.
However, while Travaglia is certainly on the right track, he still hasn’t made much of an impact at ATP level, so facing Khachanov is a big step up in class for the Italian. He has nothing to lose and shouldn’t fear Khachanov, but the Russian should be able to power his way past Travaglia and get Russia off to a winning start.
Rubber 2: Daniil Medvedev (??) vs Fabio Fognini (??), live from Perth around 7.00pm local time (11.00am GMT)
One of the biggest stories of the 2019 season, can Medvedev continue his superb form into 2020 and cement himself as a top five player?
Nobody won more ATP titles than Medvedev last year, with the 23-year-old claiming his first two Masters 1000 trophies in Cincinnati and Shanghai, while he also emerged triumphant in Sofia and St. Petersburg.
Furthermore, Medvedev incredibly advanced to six consecutive finals from July to October, compiling a 29-3 run in which he also made his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, where he pushed Rafael Nadal in a five-set final for the ages, becoming the youngest major finalist since Novak Djokovic in 2010 and the first Russian to reach a Grand Slam final since Safin in 2005.
Medvedev hit a career-high ranking of No. 4 and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals as a result, but by that stage he had ran out of steam, losing all of his round robin matches to end 2019 as the World No. 5.
Fognini wasn’t too far behind in the rankings, finishing last season at No. 12, while in June he became the oldest player to break into the top 10 for the first time at the age of 32.
As usual, it was an up-and-down season for Fognini, but the high was a career milestone as he beat Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal on the way to his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Monte-Carlo, defeating Dusan Lajovic in the final.
However, on the other hand, Fognini went 1-6 in quarter-final matches and lost five matches in a row at one point at the start of the season. Inconsistency has always held Fognini back, but in saying that, he’s won over 30 matches in six of the last seven years, so he’s certainly improving in that regard.
Fognini won the first encounter between the pair at the 2017 Cincinnati Masters, but Medvedev has won their last two meetings at Sydney in 2018 and Shanghai in 2019. Medvedev’s maddening consistency and ability to get basically every ball back deep into the court should frustrate Fognini in theory, but if the Italian is firing, he can handle just about everyone. In saying that, I don’t see Fognini playing his best in the first match of the season, so if Medvedev remains solid, he should be too good.
Rubber 3: Doubles – teams to be confirmed, live from Perth around 9.00pm local time (1.00pm GMT)
Italy may have the advantage in doubles, with Fognini and Simone Bolelli a very experienced team who won the Australian Open in 2015.
Paolo Lorenzi and Alessandro Giannessi are other players for Italian captain Vincenzo Santopadre to consider, while Safin could be tempted to play long-term friends Khachanov and Medvedev if Russia haven’t wrapped up the tie in singles.