Kyrgios, Cilic, Tiafoe & Paul Headline Blockbuster Season Opener in Melbourne Tonight! Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Rublev, De Minaur & More Begin ATP Cup Tomorrow!
Australian summer is here at last!
Tonight, the long-awaited 2021 tennis season will begin with a bang Down Under when Canberra native and reigning Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios kicks off a series of new and exciting events, held simultaneously in Melbourne Park, in the lead up to the Australian Open, which will be played from Feb. 8-20 this year.
“There’s no doubt this will be an historic week of tennis and is the biggest-ever AO lead-in week we have seen in Australia,” said Tennis Australia’s Cameron Pearson. “It’s an exciting prospect for fans both onsite and watching around the world.”
Kyrgios will play his first tour match in nearly a year at the Murray River Open, a new ATP tournament named in honor of the Victoria region affected by the devastating bushfires of 2020. The Citi Open star and former world No. 13 has taken the Coronavirus pandemic very seriously. He hasn’t left Australia since the outbreak and has publicly spoken out about the perceived reckless behavior from some of his peers on tour.
"Health and safety always come first in my eyes," Kyrgios told CNN Sport's Patrick Snell. "At the end of the day, it is only a tennis tournament that we're playing and I don't think it should override health protocols and putting other people at risk."
But while many fans have applauded Kyrgios’s response to Covid, he has seen his ATP ranking fall after skipping the US Open and French Open, and revised 2020 season. The Aussie star will aim to reverse the curve on home soil, on Monday, when he faces French rising star Alexandre Müller in his opening match of the tournament.
Should Kyrgios prevail, he could face compatriot and former world No. 17 Bernard Tomic in a blockbuster second-round clash. The Aussies are two of the most animated players on the ATP Tour and would astonishingly face each other for the first time at the tour-level.
Kyrgios will be joined in the hunt for his first title since the 2019 Citi Open by top seed and former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka and 2014 US Open champion and two-time Citi Open semifinalist Marin Cilic, who will take on Jeremy Chardy, of France, in one of the most intriguing first-round matches. The pair have played each other six times, with Cilic leading their rivalry 4-2.
Elsewhere, Canadian star and No. 3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime is pursuing his first ATP Tour title in the bottom half of the draw with 2017 ATP Finals champion and No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov. The 20-year-old, Next-Gen contender made his DC debut in 2019 and reached the round of 16, before losing to Cilic in straight sets. Auger-Aliassime will begin his ‘21 campaign against Quentin Halys or Yuichi Sugita, after receiving a bye in the first round.
Also in the bottom half of the draw, in Dimitrov’s quarter, hometown favorite and 2019 Australian Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe will look to raise his game again in Melbourne when he takes on Frenchman Corentin Moutet in the first round.
Tiafoe has the potential to face compatriot and former Citi Open quarterfinalist Tommy Paul in the quarterfinals, but Paul first has to get past Britain’s Cameron Norrie in his opening match and a potential Melbourne rematch against Dimitrov in the third round.
One year ago, Paul outlasted Dimitrov in a four-hour, 19-minute five-set thriller at the Australian Open.
(Courtesy ATP Tour)
The star power continues on Tuesday, when Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and 2019 Citi Open finalist Daniil Medvedev headline opening day of the ATP Cup. The second edition of the wildly-popular ATP team event will also feature Citi Open stars Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Kei Nishikori, Denis Shapovalov, Alex de Minaur, and Alexander Zverev from February 2-6.
Twelve countries, competing in four, round-robin groups, are in the hunt for the cup, with the top team from each group advancing to the knock-out semifinals and final on Feb. 6. Qualification is based on the FedEx ATP ranking of each country’s top-ranked singles player, while Australia qualifies by virtue of a host wild card.
In 2020, Serbia defeated Spain, 2-1, in a thrilling championship clash, which included a tantalizing match-up between Djokovic and Nadal in Sydney.
“The inaugural edition of the ATP Cup in 2020 was a resounding success, highlighted by incredible matches and camaraderie,” said ATP Cup managing director Ross Hutchins. “Playing as a team, for one’s country, is a rare privilege in tennis, which brings the best out of our players. We cannot wait for tennis fans around the world to again share in the excitement and energy of this special event.”
(Courtesy ATP Tour)
Defending champion Serbia will lead off against Canada in Group A, which also includes Germany. At last year’s event, Serbia overcame Canada, 3-0, in the quarterfinals. The tie produced one of the most memorable matches of the event, when then world No. 2 Novak Djokovic outlasted Canadian No. 1 and Citi Open star Denis Shapovalov in a final-set tie-break.
On Tuesday, Shapovalov will look to avenge the loss and snap Djokovic’s 8-0 ATP Cup winning streak. They square off second on Rod Laver Arena, following the opening match between Dusan Lajovic and Milos Raonic, around 10:30 p.m. EST. Djokovic leads their career head-to-head 5-0.
On Wednesday, Shapovalov will take on two-time Citi Open champion Alexander Zverev, when Canada meets Germany. In this highly-anticipated match, Zverev will look to avenge a painful loss and score Germany’s first win of the tournament. Last year, the 23-year-old fell to Shapovalov, 6-2, 6-2, in round-robin play, but leads their FedEx head2head 3-2.
(Courtesy ATP Tour)
Another blockbuster to watch pits Spain’s world No. 2 Rafael Nadal against Greece’s world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Group B on Thursday, the last day of round-robin competition. Nadal leads their head-to-head, 6-1, but the two-time Citi Open semifinalist has pushed the 20-time Grand Slam champ to a deciding set in three of their last four matches.
In their eighth encounter, Tsitsipas will look to avenge his country’s maiden Cup showing, where Greece bowed out of the tournament with an 0-3 record. But first, he’ll have to get past fellow Citi Open star and world No. 23 Alex de Minaur, who will attempt to lead Australia to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
Australia reached the final four last year, in large part due to De Minaur, who strung together a series of stellar performances and even took a set off Nadal in an epic semifinal thriller.
De Minaur is scheduled for a rematch against the world No. 1 on Tuesday, when Spain takes on Australia to begin Group B competition. Then on Wednesday, the Aussie faces Tsitsipas. Both Nadal and Tsitsipas own a perfect, 3-0, record over De Minaur and both matches will broadcast early on the east coast, around 4 a.m. EST, from Rod Laver Arena.
John Cain Arena will showcase arguably the most dangerous Citi Open combination: Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev. The world No. 4 and No. 8, respectively, are looking to lead Russia past Argentina and Japan, in Group D, to their second semifinal appearance.
At the inaugural ATP Cup last year, Djokovic clinched Serbia’s spot in the final with a 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 win over Medvedev in the semis. But the Russian star bounced back, ending 2020 winning the Rolex Paris Masters and Nitto ATP Finals, scoring back-to-back victories over Djokovic, Nadal, and Dominic Thiem, becoming the first player to defeat the top-3 players in the FedEx ATP rankings in Finals history.
Rublev also distinguished himself in 2020. The 2018 Citi Open semifinalist won five tournaments, including three ATP 500 crowns to reach a career-high ranking of No. 8 in the world.
The Russian duo will take on Argentina in their opening tie on Tuesday. Rublev faces Guido Pella in the first rubber, while Medvedev plays world No. 9 Diego Schwartzman in the second. Then on Wednesday, the pair faces Japan, with Rublev taking on Yoshi Nishioka, while Medvedev plays former Citi Open champion Kei Nishikori.
John Cain will also feature world No. 4 Dominic Thiem for Austria, world no. 10 Matteo Berrettini for Italy, and world no. 11 and 2016 Citi Open champ Gael Monfils for France in Group C.
Citi Open Stars Kenin, Coco & Pegula Lead WTA Field in Melbourne
On the women’s side, Citi Open star and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin will lead the field of competition at the Yarra Valley Classic, which will also feature world No. 1 and hometown favorite Ashleigh Barty and seven-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams.
Just a year ago, 21-year-old Kenin stunned the tennis world by scoring back-to-back wins over Barty and former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza to win the 2020 Australian Open, becoming the youngest American since Serena Williams, in 2002, to capture a Grand Slam crown.
Seeded No. 2, Kenin received a bye in her first tournament back in Melbourne and could face 2019 Citi Open finalist Camila Giorgi in the second round. Giorgi, who ended American wildcard Caty McNally's Cinderella run in the Washington semis, will play Clara Burel in her opening match.
Should Kenin prevail, she could potentially book a Melbourne rematch against Muguruza in the quarterfinals. She could also meet defending Citi Open champion Jessica Pegula, who takes on No. 15 seed Kristina Mladenovic in her opening match in the same quarter of the draw.
Concurrently, American teen sensation and Citi Open doubles champion Coco Gauff will contend for the Gippsland Trophy, alongside world No. 2 and top seed Simona Halep and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka.
Seeded No. 14, Gauff will play rising Swiss star Jil Teichmann in the first round and could potentially face Osaka in the round of 16. Gauff famously upset the Japanese world No. 3 the last time they met in Melbourne at the 2020 Australian Open. Gauff is aiming to win her second WTA title. She claimed the first in 2019 at Linz.