Tennis Prose



ATP Cup: Passion Ignites As Serbia Stuns France

Serbia downs France to reach the ATP Cup quarterfinals

by Louise Belcourt

There were various players, commentators and voices out there that were sceptical of the ATP Cup and believed it was just another team event the already full men’s tennis calendar didn’t need. But on Monday night in Brisbane, team Serbia and team France threw that notion out of the park, as every breath of passion and energy was left on Pat Rafter Arena.

Team Serbia won its first tie 3-0 against South Africa. Team France won its first tie 2-1 against Chile. Serbia would advance to the quarterfinals if they beat France, and France needed a win to have a chance of qualifying to the knockout stage in Sydney.

France took the lead over Serbia when Benoit Paire came from behind to beat Dusan Lajovic 2-6 7-6(6) 6-4. Even though Gael Monfils was due to play Novak Djokovic in the upcoming match, in the last set he returned to the arena knowing that his countryman needed his support and energy. Paire said “if I’m alone on court I can break more than the racket, I can destroy all my racket and leave the court.” He continued “it was very important for me to stay focused for the team. So when Gael came and told me, Yeah, you have to fight, you have to fight for the team.”

World number 2 Novak Djokovic then leveled the tie with a straight sets 6-3 6-2 victory over world number 9 Gael Monfils. In an extremely humid night where both players struggled, Djokovic said in the on court interview that this was probably the most uncomfortable conditions he has ever played in. Nevertheless, as exhausted as he was, Djokovic wanted the win for Serbia so much he had half an hour break before playing the deciding doubles tie where he teamed up with friend Viktor Troicki.

The crowd was electric. 90% of the crowd were pro-Serbian, so it felt like a Serbian home Davis Cup match. The French players would not be deterred and Monfils and Paire were giving it to the loud Serbian crowd every time France won a point. But it was not to be for France with the Serbian’s outlasting them 6-3 6-7(5) 10-3. Surprisingly, Aussie Nick Kyrgios was a vocal “French” fan in the crowd staying up to cheer every Serbian mistake or French winner in the enthralling doubles match until after 12:30am.

After the match Djokovic spoke of how much the win meant to him, “I really show my emotion because I really care about playing for Serbia, but I also care about being on the team with my friends these guys are some of my best friends in my life and I grew up with Viktor. We played so many doubles matches together in junior days. And the last one that we played was really tough one for us because we had match points against Russia in quarters of Davis Cup and didn’t capitalize on that one. And then coming in today it was kind of a similar scenario a little bit. So we managed together to kind of lift the energy and get out of the, out of that crisis, the mini crisis we had at the end of the second and beginning of the super tiebreak. But you saw the atmosphere. It was phenomenal. Serbian people, I mean, I didn’t expect, to be honest, so many of them staying all the way through and basically being on a Christmas Day with us post-midnight, which is amazing.”

With 16 grand slam titles to his name the Serbian still showed what magnitude this ATP Cup win meant for him and the Serbian crowd, “when they (the Australian Serbian’s) get to have an opportunity to support their athletes from their countries, it’s obviously big thing, and for us, I mean, we cannot ask for more. I mean, this is exactly what we want and what we need in this kind of competition.”

As the ATP Cup has gone on, I can see how much more vested each player and team is in this competition. Sure, there is ATP points and prizemoney, but everyone wants to win for their country, or even more precisely they don’t want to lose. Australia’s John Millman summed up the bitter taste of defeat for your country, after his emotional win over Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on Sunday, “I’m really glad I could get the win over Felix today. And I did step up because it was really tough in Davis Cup when I got that loss (against Canada in the quarter final in November 2019). I took that loss pretty hard and it ate at me throughout the preseason. I thought about that a lot and I was on holiday and I didn’t enjoy my holiday too much because I was probably thinking about that.”

So it seems a loss for your country could be worse than a loss for yourself.

(Djokovic art by Andres Bella.)

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  • Scoop Malinowski · January 7, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Really, Kyrgios was that open about his anti Djokovic/Serbia interests? To cheer mistakes and cheer for France is a surprise to hear. I don’t ever recall seeing a player from a third country take an interest in a match between two foreign nations. Nick claims he didn’t care to watch much tennis as a kid or now but the contrary seems true, he will support Sock matches and now we know he will root against Serbia and Djokovic. The Kyrgios-Djokovic feud must be at full boil right now.

  • Jeff · January 7, 2020 at 11:57 pm

    Please Scoop. Lions don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep. Kyrgios rooted against Djoko in the Wimbledon final too and how did that work out?

    A rivalry is when two players have achieved a similar status. That’s not the case here, it would be like comparing my tennis game to a top 500 pro.

    Nick better win this ATP Cup. He has yet to win a team event between Laver Cup and Davis Cup.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 8, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Jeff, Kyrgios sure does seem to still harbor a grudge vs Djokovic.

  • Jeff · January 9, 2020 at 12:27 am

    That I agree with Scoop but a feud has to come from both sides. Haven’t heard Djoko badmouth Kyrgios because lions don’t concern themselves with sheep.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 9, 2020 at 7:32 am

    No, Djokovic won’t talk publicly about his disdain for Kyrgios. But watch him closely when they play. No love lost.

  • Louise Belcourt · January 9, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Australia is the first team into the ATP Cup semi final!
    The surprise double’s pairing of Nick Kyrgios and Alex de Minaur had to dig deep, overcoming a spirited and more experienced British pair 18-16 in the 3rd set.
    After the match Nick said “It was awesome. It was honestly — probably today was one of the best moments in my career, definitely.Just making it through to the semifinal, the first-ever ATP Cup in that type of fashion, was pretty special.The whole team was — we genuinely care for each other, and they were genuinely just so ecstatic to get through.”
    Alex chimed in “Tell you what, after I got called up for the doubles, I had already forgotten about the singles (loss), and with the doubles win, I mean, it’s one of the best days of my life. Not gonna lie.”
    There is no doubt that Nick thrived in this environment and was a positive role model around Alex. After Nick’s singles match he said “I kind of look at him as my little brother in a way. I just try and be a good influence on him whenever I can when I’m around him, and I think he feeds off my energy a little bit.”

  • Jeff · January 9, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Scoop, they haven’t played since 2016. And Djoko was photographed praising Kyrgios since those matches. This is all on Nick’s end. But I think this has to do with a woman that Djoko was with who Kyrgios probably was after. This is the only reasonable answer as to why this has cropped up since it all happened since he broke up with Tomjlanovic

  • Jeff · January 9, 2020 at 9:46 pm

    I find it interesting that as Australia’s No. 2 Kyrgios can’t play Nadal or Djokovic in the ATP Cup. No doubt part of his master plan.

  • Jeffa · January 9, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    Medvedev is what the tour has been waiting for, an authentic bad boy who is a threat to win the majors. Expect the Russian to pocket a Slam or two this year for sure.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 12:10 am

    Medvedev is good. He bombed at the ATP finals. Let’s see if he can fend off yhat big X on his back.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 12:11 am

    Thiem with Muster, Massu is a big move. Glad Muster signed on. Two champs!

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 7:20 am

    Medvedev converted. From bad boy to good boy. From real talk to cliches.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Prediction: with Muster on board, Thiem wins a Masters 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 10:03 am

    Medvedev converted to Andrei Medvedev? Nah!!!! C’mon people. His bad guy ethos is him. I don’t know if it will work this year but it was fascinating last summer.

  • Hartt · January 10, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Daniil Medvedev can be a first class jerk, but he can be charming as well. In response to Naomi Osaka asking Rothenberg if Medvedev is interesting, Daniil tweeted:

    Daniil Medvedev
    not sure I am interesting but I would love some tips as how to actually win the @usopen

  • Hartt · January 10, 2020 at 10:30 am

    But the real question is how will Daniil do this season? I have him with a year-end ranking of No.7. Although he is obviously very talented, I want to see more good results before deciding he is a great player (in the sense of being in the top 3). Gill Gross has him at No.6. I think we are in a minority. What do other people think?

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 11:24 am

    Shenzen-WTA: Rybakina, Alexandrova take out Muguruza, Kr. Pliskova. Nice to see Muguruza and Kr. Pliskova do well – both unexpected but with Muguruza and Conchita Martinez back perhaps she’s feeling her A-game again.

    New Zealand-WTA: Anisimova d. Bouchard in 3 close sets. Bouchard must feel VERY good about a QF.

    Brisbane: Ka. Pliskova d. Riske. Someone had to do it. Riske among few players you really, really, really have to beat because she doesn’t let up (anymore). She has conquered the Will to Lose.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Doha: Moutet d. Verdasco, now Moutet vs. Wawrinka. Will Moutet be your Next Pretty Good French Men’s Player with a Sweet Game? I like Humbert, but perhaps Moutet will be the “best” of the young french ATP players.

    Rublev d. Kecmanovic “easily” and gets the winner of Moutet vs. Wawrinka. Anyone else think Rublev has a chance to win the final? Possibly looking at a “next gen” Doha final. Wow. Also possibly looking at a “Wawrinka defeats the Next Generation” final.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 11:32 am

    See Medvedev slide his sophomore year. Nadal, facing extinction, revved up the engines the last times they have played and the big guys have studied him now. Tsitsipas, Kyrgios aren’t afraid (not that anyone’s afraid of Kyrgios).

    I think it’s like other new players, the second year is harder than the first, and the first breakthrough year was hard as heck.

    His example was important for other players that are “beginning to believe”. And Medvedev only slowed down after his China masters title (which was sweet). But he got mowed over after that.

  • Harold · January 10, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Backing up your points after a meteoric rise up the rankings is the big test. Are you for real, or a flash in the pan?

    Gotta give Medvedev a break. He didn’t win Paris, or year end. But, he had to be dead after the Open, and the Asian run, where the media, and appearance fees went up. Let him catch his breath, and see where he goes from here

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    I saw something different in Moutet in Tallahassee and how he deals with media. He is private and focused and super duper serious. This guy has big ambitions and he’s not content to be a top 20 ranger. I have interviewed all the French guys, Moutet has a different vibe. I say beware of Moutet, keep an eye on him and do not put a ceiling on him or stereotype him as another French stylist. There’s more there, a lot more. There is some Rios under the surface, some me-against-the-world Hewittness too. I told you last April keep an eye on this guy. Best is yet to come.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Thiem is playing all options to make history. Hiring a wizard warrior like Muster – pure brilliance. I think Thiem needs more ruthlessness and meanstreak. Too nice, too composed. Be a beast. Muster was a beast. A BEAST. A killer. Muster can evoke the repressed supressed beast in Thiem. He will refine Thiem’s mental mindset.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Felix has had a bad ATP Cup. He hasn’t got it done, he’s taken steps backwards, losing badly to Struff and Lajovic. Four straight sets in the loser column. Might need a change in his team.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 10, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Moutet beats Wawrinka in three sets in Doha.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    Moutet vs Rublev for Doha crown! My goodness. This is what happened back from 1998-2002, when the next generation of pythons moved into place, or a few years ago in 2015-2016 when new players began winning ATP titles. That began in 2018 when Zverev won the ATP finals and showed other guys they could scale the heights.

    I’m not going to say this is going to snowball. The big guys still own the slams. But this is looking good for the young guys and they have plenty of good tennis in them.

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    Like Humbert a lot, but no one talks Humbert!

  • Andrew Miller · January 10, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    Medvedev was spectacular from summer to October. We’ll see what he has left in the tank! Maybe Harold’s right, give him some rest.

  • Dan Markowitz · January 10, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Tournament of the week is in Ann Arbor where the Koz, believe it or not, is in the semis of the Challenger, taking out Nakashima and Frantangelo, the #1 seed. Go Koz!

  • Jon King · January 11, 2020 at 12:55 am

    Gotta love the Koz!!

  • Jeff · January 11, 2020 at 1:10 am

    I think Nick is more obsessed with Rafa now…

    Q. Is the threat of your underarm serve becoming a bit of a weapon? I saw you had your opponent on a back foot a few times just in two minds whether you were going to use it.
    NICK KYRGIOS: Yeah, I think any time in a match where the opponent stops thinking about what he needs to do and starts focusing on external things like that, I think I’ve got an edge straightaway.

    If it gets in Rafa’s head, then it’s a success.

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    How did De Minaur have Nadal on ropes?

  • Andrew Miller · January 11, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Kozlov!!! Good for him. I’m glad he’s inspired again.

  • Jeff · January 11, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Bianca out. I guess she will have to wait to become a contender to win all four Slams in one year.

    Looks like Serena is finally going to get her coveted title.

    Bautista Agut destroys Kyrgios in front of his home fans. That has to be demoralizing for him. At least he has Instagram stories and Fortnite to lift his spirits.

  • Jeff · January 11, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Kyrgios said on Insta that he had a chat with Djokovic so not what to believe.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    Noticing Batista Agut is a different player now after Davis Cup heroics, he also double bageled a good player last week. RBA is in the zone, ready for a big breakout?

  • Hartt · January 11, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    RBA played great in his match against Kyrgios, and I think he will win over Lajovic, although Dusan has played well at the ATP Cup. The more I’ve seen of RBA’s play, the more impressed I’ve been.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 11, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Haven’t seen Agut this week but Lajovic has been sensational, moving incredibly well, and hitting everything heavy. Lajovic is absolutely one of the most underrated best movers in the ATP. 3-0 now vs Khachanov I believe the TV commentators said. Stunning dominance of an excellent player.

  • Jeff · January 11, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    I am going to pick Lajovic to beat Agut. I agree Lajovic is one of the game’s underrated stars. Serbia is desperate to win a team title and I like the Serbs to pour champagne all over each other.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 12:32 am

    Serena about to win in Auckland, which is no surprise, v Pegula, but I wouldn’t say it’s a signpost for the AO.

    CSN fails to qualify for Adelaide, which is a shame in her farewell year. I hope she can find a few better results as the season progresses. Kasatkina qualifies.

    Lower stream a bit long so I’m posting up here for now.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 12:37 am

    Without Bianca there’s something missing.It’s as if she had a whole career in one season.

  • Andrew Miller · January 12, 2020 at 1:09 am

    Andreescu, any player, needs time to recover. But her boom injury cycle is worrisome. Unless she ups her physio that will be her career – scintillating playing then injury and this cycle over and over.

    I figured she’d pull out and soon. The field to my eye is fine, the WTA is as good as it’s been in a long time. It has depth.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Andrew – yes, on the whole WTA is ok but Bianca was something different. Not to mention Coco A.
    I’m afraid your boom/bust cycle may come to define Bianca.

    Pliskova does it in Brisbane – 3 sets over Keys. But that’s Madeleine’s best tournament for a long time.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 2:31 am

    Halep and Kerber among those turning out for a fund-raising exhibition Rally for Relief prior to the start of the Adelaide tournament. Bushfires are still burning and will do so during the summer and long after the tennis caravan has moved on. So every little counts.

    Adelaide tournament is held at Memorial Drive, now revamped, but dear to the hearts of those who remember the old Australian circuit.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Andrew, they added an experienced full-time physio to Bianca’s team some time before the USO in addition to her trainer. I don’t think the problem is with her physical preparation, etc., but is probably due more to her very physical style of play.

    One big concern is when there is an injury to a body part, there is a greater risk of injuring it again.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 7:08 am

    The ATP Cup will come down to the doubles but it will be Novak and Troicki vs PCB, and surprisingly, Feli Lopez.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 7:40 am

    Kvitova w/d from Adelaide so Kerber moves up, avoids a clash with Sloane Stephens and plays Wang Qiang instead.

    Hartt – the problem with a miniscus injury is that if it recurs it’s likely surgery will be required. And a player is likely to be hampered if it’s something on their mind. We’ve seen this again and again. In the old days Bianca could have got through a season playing almost entirely on grass or clay, but unfortunately no longer possible.

    As you suggest, Bianca’s style of play is an important factor, but that’s not going to change.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 8:35 am

    Sad to hear Ostapenko’s father has died. It was known he was ill but this must be devastating for her.

  • catherine · January 12, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Stephens, Vekic and Kerber do the wine tour in South Aust, sampling Penfold’s best. I shall be watching keenly for the effects on their play.

  • Hartt · January 12, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Yes, it was sad news about Ostapenko’s father. She posted a moving message, along with a photo of herself as a little girl with her dad, but i am not able to copy it.

  • Jeff · January 12, 2020 at 10:35 am

    Well I was half right that Serbia would win but Lajovic got crushed.

    Aren’t these team events something else? I was sceptical but both the David Cup and this ATP Cup have been special. The crowds have been amazing and people love to play for their country.

    Perhaps there should be more team events in tennis? I think Nick Kyrgios may be right. The fans are really responding to these ideas. I would love to see some meaningless 250s get replaced by team events.

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