March 2, 2021

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Canada into the 2021 ATP Cup – but without FAA (updated)

ATp Cup

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The withdrawal of Roger Federer from February’s Australian Open means no Switzerland in the ATP Cup the previous week.

And with that, Canada gets the 11th spot in the 12-team competition, with the 12th team being the wild card host nation, Australia.

But this year, the Canadian team will do it without Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Open Court has learned that the 20-year-old will play one of the 250-level ATP events instead.

The problem, essentially, is the format.

We’re told that Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov have confirmed for the event.

And we’ve also learned that Steven Diez and Peter Polansky will round out the squad.

(Let’s hope their ties don’t come down to the doubles).

Since only the two top singles players get to play (unless there’s an injury), there’s little benefit to sitting on the bench for a nice cheque for higher-ranked players.

Especially this year, as the week before the Australian Open is the only opportunity to get competitive match play before the big event. The opening events in Antalya and Delray Beach take place a full month beforehand.

But for Diez and Polansky, who will battle it out in the qualifying in Doha in two weeks, it’s a nice piece of change that will help set them up nicely for the 2021 season from a financial point of view.

So the list of 12 teams is as follows:

  1. Serbia
  2. Spain
  3. Austria
  4. Russia
  5. Greece
  6. Germany
  7. Argentina
  8. Italy
  9. Japan
  10. France
  11. Canada
  12. Australia

The official draw will take place in January, dividing the 12 teams into four pools of three nations.

Protected ranking gets Nishikori and Japan in

Kei Nishikori, with his special ranking of No. 10, gets Japan into the event.

But it remains to be seen how effective he can be, or if he will make the date.

The newlywed, who turned 31 Tuesday, withdrew from a planned participation in the season-opening tournament in Delray Beach.

That’s the place, as an 18-year-old in 2008, that he made his first big splash by winning the tournament.

Nishikori has played just four tournaments since the 2019 US Open – all of them during the abbreviated clay-court season last fall. He has had 2 1/2 months of additional time since Paris to get healthier and prepare for 2021. But January, it seems, remains too soon.

Let’s hope early February is enough time for him.

Who will play ATP Cup for Canada?

The issue that affects all of the teams that have some depth on the singles side is that only the top two singles player are likely to play.

And so, even if Auger-Aliassime is ranked No. 21 in the world, he won’t see action while No. 456, Michail Pervolarakis of Greece (born in and residing in Cyprus), will play.

Not only that, Pervolarakis gets to gain entry into Australia where players in the top 120, who might well be able to play the qualifying at the other ATP warmup events, are barred.

It’s a nice solid for his peeps that Stefanos Tsitsipas is doing. (The appearance cheque for himself isn’t bad, either. But he will get, at most, two prep matches).

Auger-Aliassime’s situation is the same one Raonic found himself in back in January. At tha time, he was the No. 3-ranked Canadian behind Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Raonic played Doha, where he lost his opening match to Corentin Moutet of France. He ended up making the quarterfinals at the Autsralian Open, so it obviously didn’t affect him too badly.

Brayden Schnur, who was on the team at the Davis Cup Finals a few months before, was just outside the top 100 at the time and had the same issue.

So who else?

The 2020 squad was filled out by Steven Diez and Peter Polansky, and doubles specialist Adil Shamasdin.

The paycheque was sweet. But this year there’s an added, rather unappetizing wrinkle: the 14-day quarantine that allows for practice, but requires the other 19 hours to be spent inside a hotel room.

And there likely are not going to be any competitive opportunities for Diez, Schnur and Polansky, unless they qualify for the Australian Open main draw in a few weeks in Doha.

ATP Cup
The Canadian squad defeated an undermanned Greek team during the 2020 ATP Cup in Brisbane.

If they are down there, they wouldn’t even be high on the list to squeeze in as lucky losers, as Aussies would take priority.

So they would lose a month of potentially playing Challengers – more, if they have to quarantine for 14 days somewhere upon their return from Australia.

Will Vasek Pospisil play, as the go-to doubles guy? Good chance. He will be getting some singles in at the Delray Beach tournament next week.

We’ll know more when we see if the 2020 ATP Comeback Player of the Year enters one of the two competing 250-level ATP Tour events scheduled for the same week.

Who will the captain be?

As for the captain, Shapovalov would get to pick as the highest-ranked player on the squad.

A year ago, he chose his former coach Adriano Fuorivia. Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic might have been the best choice. But as Dancevic is also the personal coach of Pospisil (who wasn’t playing), it wasn’t going to happen.

In the first edition, there was a requirement that the team captain be of the same nationality as the team. That led to Marat Safin captaining the Russians, and Aussie resident Thomas Muster heading up Team Austria.

It’s hard to conceive of a repeat of that. Especially because this year, because of the restrictions, the ATP Cup is waiving that requirement.

You’d imagine he’d pick his own personal coach, Mikhail Youzhny, for the job.

We shall see.