World No. 1 Rafael Nadal begins his 2020 season in Perth at the ATP Cup on Saturday night as Spain comes up against Georgia.
A strong Spanish side attempts to win their second international team competition in six weeks as top 10 stars Rafael Nadal and Roberto Bautista Agut lead the nation in their first ATP Cup clash in Perth against Georgia on Saturday.
Less than two months after capturing the inaugural Davis Cup Finals trophy in Madrid, Spain have the chance to secure the first ever ATP Cup title – and it’s unlikely a Georgian team spearheaded by World No. 26 Nikoloz Basilashvili will be able to do much to stop them…
SPAIN ??: 1. Rafael Nadal 2. Roberto Bautista Agut 3. Pablo Carreno Busta 4. Albert Ramos-Vinolas 5. Feliciano Lopez. Captain: Francisco Roig.
GEORGIA ??: 1. Nikoloz Basilashvili 2. Aleksandre Metreveli 3. George Tsivadze 4. Aleksandre Bakshi 5. Zura Tkemaladze. Captain: David Kvernadze.
Rubber 1: Roberto Bautista Agut (??) vs Aleksandre Metreveli (??), live from Perth at 5.30pm local time (9.30am GMT)
Bautista Agut should be able to open the tie with a one-sided victory against Metreveli, who is ranked No. 679 in the world and retired in his last two Futures tournaments during December.
It was a career-best season for Bautista Agut in 2019, with the Spaniard breaking into the top 10 on the back of a series of fantastic results. Always one of the most consistent players on tour (275 straight weeks in the top 30 attests to that), Bautista Agut went to the next level last year, reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, Australian Open quarter-finals, winning the ninth ATP title of his career in Doha – beating Novak Djokovic along the way – and conquering the Serbian again to make the Miami Masters quarter-finals.
Along with Masters 1000 quarter-finals in Montreal and Cincinnati, Bautista Agut won over 40 matches for the fifth time in the last six seasons – and you’d expect him to extend that record in 2020.
He’s got a favourable match-up on Saturday night against Metreveli, who will easily be playing the biggest match of his career.
The 26-year-old peaked at No. 264 in the world in 2016, which is barely good enough for Grand Slam qualifying, and has spent his entire career plugging away at Challenger and Futures level. That ranking has deteriorated over the last few years to a current mark of No. 679 – and the signs aren’t good for this match if his last events of 2019 are anything to go by, with Metreveli retiring from Futures events in Doha just a few weeks ago.
Nevertheless, even if Metreveli is at full fitness, I don’t see any way he’ll be able to trouble one of the most solid and consistent players in the game. Expect a routine victory for Bautista Agut.
Rubber 2: Rafael Nadal (??) vs Nikoloz Basilashvili (??), live from Perth not before 7.00pm local time (11.00am GMT)
The World No. 1 is back in action and playing for the first time in Perth as Nadal looks to kick-start his 2020 season with a bang against Basilashvili .
Nadal couldn’t have put together a better 2019, especially after injury concerns for large chunks at the start of the season, winning his 12th French Open and fourth U.S. Open, while he also secured record 34th and 35th Masters 1000 crowns in Rome and Montreal.
Those results contributed to Nadal leapfrogging Novak Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking in the closing stages of the season, despite being knocked out of the Nitto ATP Finals in the group stage as he battled an abdominal injury. Nadal became the oldest year-end No. 1 in history at 33 and was also the first player in the Open Era to win a title for 16 straight seasons, eclipsing Roger Federer’s previous record of 15. Guiding Spain to Davis Cup glory in November was the icing on the cake.
Considering many thought he was done and dusted a few years ago as he battle various injury setbacks, what Nadal has been able to achieve – ending the decade as No. 1 – is quite extraordinary. Will 2020 bring similar success?
Basilashvili is his first opponent of the new decade. The 27-year-old has already made history for Georgia, becoming the first ATP champion from the country as he won the 500-level Hamburg Open in 2018, while he also secured more 500 silverware in Beijing that year, defeating Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
Amazingly, Basilashvili defended his Hamburg title last year with a victory over Andrey Rublev, while he also reached a career-high ranking of N0. 16 during the middle of the season. However, that was pretty much as good as it got for Basilashvili, and he ended the year down at No. 26.
The pair have played three times previously, with Nadal unsurprisingly winning all three. Basilashvili got a set at the 2018 U.S. Open, but during their meetings at Roland Garros in 2017 and Rome 2019, he managed to win just two games in five sets. Nadal probably won’t be that ruthless in his first outing of the season, but he should never be in danger of losing this one.
Rubber 3: Doubles – teams to be confirmed, live from Perth around 9.00pm local time (1.00pm GMT)
Nadal is an excellent doubles player, but unless he’s determined to play, it’s unlikely he’ll be risked if Spain have already clinched the tie. Feliciano Lopez is available, along with Pablo Carreno Busta and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, while Basilashvili will probably need to play if Georgia are any chance of pulling off an upset.