The Russian duo of Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov look to maintain Russia’s supremacy in Group D, while the USA must find a way to win if they are to avoid effective elimination from the ATP Cup.
Russia vs USA is live from Perth on Sunday at 5.30pm local/9.30am GMT
Despite a preponderance of players in the top 100 compared to their opponents, the USA suffered a shock defeat to Norway on Friday as they opened their ATP Cup campaign. Taylor Fritz got a singles win but 21-year-old Casper Ruud, Norway’s solitary player in the top 100, saved two match points to beat John Isner before teaming up with Viktor Durasovic to win the decisive doubles.
The loss sent the USA down to third place in Group D and left them needing to beat Russia in order to keep their chances of making the elimination stages alive. Unfortunately, Russia came into this tournament looking like a very strong team, led by world no. 5 Daniil Medvedev and world no. 17 Karen Khachanov with Teymuraz Gabashvili in support, and they lived up to that reputation with a 3-0 victory over Italy to go top of Group D.
Russia: Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov, Teymuraz Gabashvili, Ivan Nedelko, Konstantin Kravchuk, Marat Safin (captain)
USA: John Isner, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Rajeev Ram, Austin Krajicek, David Macpherson (captain)
Rubber 1: Karen Khachanov (RUS) vs Taylor Fritz (USA), live from Perth from 5.30pm local/9.30am GMT
World no. 17 Karen Khachanov will look to reprise the win he scored over Taylor Fritz at the Shanghai Masters last October, which was a straightforward 6-2, 6-4 victory for the powerful Russian.
Khachanov was widely considered to have a disappointing 2019 season, especially after having claimed his maiden Masters 1000 Series title in Paris at the end of 2018. Hopes were high for him and a 30-29 win-loss record did not impress, but he still managed to make the quarterfinals of the French Open, Indian Wells, Moscow and Vienna, and was a semifinalist at the Canada Masters and in Beijing.
Representing Russia at the Davis Cup Finals, Khachanov lost his last three round-robin matches but snapped that streak when he started 2020 by beating Stefano Travaglia of Italy 7-5, 6-3, coming back from 2-5 down in the first set.
Taylor Fritz, a year younger than Khachanov at 22, was the second-fastest American ever to reach an ATP Tour final after turning pro and reached a career-high ranking of world no. 25 in 2019 after reaching three ATP Tour finals, winning his maiden title in Eastbourne and finishing runner-up in Atlanta and Los Cabos. He also started his ATP Cup campaign with a win on Friday, but it’s a bit less impressive in his case given that he was up against Viktor Durasovic of Norway, who is currently ranked world no. 332.
Khachanov can be a bit inconsistent, to say the least, but he seems to enjoy playing for Russia and in terms of pure weaponry, he brings a lot more explosiveness and weight of shot to this encounter, particularly on serve and from the baseline. Fritz needs Khachanov to have a bad day in order to win this one; the opposite is not necessarily true. Advantage Russia.
Rubber 2: Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs John Isner (USA), to follow
This could be a fascinating encounter as we see world no. 5 Daniil Medvedev taking on the big-serving John Isner for the first time.
Everybody is watching with bated breath to see what Medvedev achieves in 2020 after the spectacular run he put together in late summer 2019, reaching the final of six tournaments in a row (including the US Open) and winning maiden Masters 1000 Series titles in Cincinnati and Shanghai. The lanky Russian’s lackadaisical, grinding, junkballing style gives opponents fits, and to add insult to injury, he can also generate plenty of lightning power on both serve and groundstrokes when he wants to.
It can be a devastating combination but then it can also go badly wrong, with Medvedev losing the last four matches of his 2019 season, including a full-scale meltdown from a winning position against Rafael Nadal at the Nitto ATP Finals.
In his ATP Cup opener we saw both the very, very bad and very, very good Medvedevs – first one, then the other. He lost the first set against Fabio Fognini (another player who can be unpredictable, to say the least) 1-6 before levelling up 6-1 and although he was the better player in the third set, winning it 6-3 and with it the tie for Russia, there was a definite note of concern for his team when he was seen undergoing a back massage on the court before returning for the doubles (which he and Khachanov won handily).
On the other side of the net, it’s quite hard to know what to expect from John Isner. The world no. 19 had an odd 2019 season, in which he went 29-17 but played very few events outside the USA, with his current ranking predominantly sustained by a surprise run to the Miami Masters final – he served his way through with a bum knee and got his clock cleaned by Roger Federer in the title match – 250 semifinals in New York and Delray Beach and winning the grass 250 in Newport. Throughout the season, he played players ranked inside the top 20 five times and won just once – against Gael Monfils in Beijing.
Isner had two match points to seal the tie for the USA when he faced Ruud on Friday, only to end up losing 6-7(3), 7-6(10), 7-5 – and then seeing the USA lose the tie to Norway. It could have been simply a freak defeat to a talented young player; on the other hand, it could have been a sign that the frailties of 2019 continue into 2020.
With his back against the wall in terms of wanting to keep his country in this competition, I expect Isner to come out firing. The question is whether Medvedev can find the solutions to the American’s big game. Medvedev won’t get the chance to wear Isner down in long baseline rallies because that’s not how Isner plays; it’s a matter of neutralizing the American’s serve with his return while protecting his own serve, and being clinical in tie-breaks. There’s a lot that can go wrong for the Russian in finding and maintaining this balance. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Isner winning this one.
Rubber 3: Karen Khachanov/Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs Rajeev Ram/Austin Krajicek (USA), to follow after suitable rest
Khachanov and Medvedev combined well against the Italian team of Simone Bolelli and Paolo Lorenzi, while the Americans Ram and Krajicek really struggled against Ruud and Durasovic. Khachanov plays a reasonable amount of doubles and is a solid performer, with his big serve always an asset to any team, and generally two top-flight singles players will beat two players who are … not. But if this tie does come down to the doubles, it’s more of a toss-up than you would think, especially if Medvedev has any physical concerns as the other day’s play suggested he might. Russia’s best hope is to make sure they win this in the singles and then potentially rest Khachanov and Medvedev for the doubles.