Lots of money, lots of points, lots of stars: what do you need to know about Australia’s new ‘United Cup’?

Wat is de United Cup?

The United Cup will bring eighteen national teams to three Australian cities (Brisbane, Perth and Sydney) between December 29 and January 8. Each team has (maximum) four players and four players. In the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, one top player can decide everything, in the United Cup the breadth of the team weighs more heavily. With Casper Ruud, for example, Norway has the number four in the world, but he is the only one of his team to be in the top 300. Greece, opponent of Belgium, has two top five customers with Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas, but there is a gap behind them. Countries with the largest core are the US, Spain and Germany.

With Casper Ruud, for example, Norway has the number four in the world, but he is the only one of his team to be in the top 300. — © EPA-EFE

What’s at stake?

Because the organizers want to stay out of the exhibition atmosphere: a lot. The distribution key is quite complex, but a successful course can earn a participant up to 500 points. They can also enjoy a large prize pool of 15 million dollars (14.6 million euros), neatly divided between ATP and WTA. To attract big names, each member (m/f) of the top ten receives a starting premium of 187,000 euros. Every player, even those outside the top 250, can count on at least 4,600 euros. Of course, every victory, individual or per team, has considerable financial perks, which can amount to many tens of thousands of euros.

What is the sporting value?

The United Cup wants to be more than a weekday preparation tournament for a grand slam. Thanks to this newcomer, the tennis elite is in Australia even before the turn of the year to overcome jet lag, temperature shock and time difference. The competition is at a higher level than similar events at this time of year. The team aspect is a welcome change in the solitary existence of a tennis nomad. And the competition formula guarantees at least two matches for the better ones.

Where did the name ‘United Cup’ come from?

Full of symbolism, that choice. As the name suggests, the United Cup is a joint initiative of ATP and WTA, the interest groups of male and female professionals respectively. Because the ITF and the grand slams also have their own agenda and interests, tennis rarely excels through unity. As the first mixed country event with ATP and WTA points, the United Cup should bring both organizations closer together.

A clown actually appeared in the audience for the duel between Australia and Great Britain. — ©  ISOPIX

What does the formula look like?

Each of the three cities is home to two groups of three countries. In each international match, two singles for men and two for women are played over two days, followed by one mixed double. No best of three so, only one best of five. The winners of each group will play against each other for a place in the semi-finals. The fourth ticket goes to the best loser. In Sydney, that quartet decides according to the same formula who wins the first United Cup.

What can Belgium do?

Due to the decline of Elise Mertens and David Goffin – who were once around and in the top ten respectively – Belgium no longer has envoys at the sub-top, but certainly has a wider selection among the women than many other participants. Alison Van Uytvanck is regarded as a fixed value in the broad middle bracket. Belgium has to compete against Greece in its preliminary round, which has two spearheads with Stéfanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari that have been part of the top five for quite some time. Behind their strikers, however, the Greeks have less to offer than Belgium. In addition to Goffin, Van Uytvanck and Mertens, Zizou Bergs, Kirsten Flipkens (team captain and an option for the mixed double), Kimmer Coppejans, Michael Geerts and Magali Kempen are part of Team Belgium. Our country will play against Bulgaria on Saturday and Sunday, followed by Greece on 1 and 2 January.

Alison Van Uytvanck, among others, defends the Belgian colours. — © BELGIUM

Who will it be looking out for?

With Father Time tapping on his shoulder, many eyes will be on Rafael Nadal. The 36-year-old Spaniard has passed more in the physio cabinet than on the training field in recent months and recently suggested that the end is approaching. So those who want to take another look at the grand slam record holder will not get too many chances. Germany’s Alexander Zverev faces his first official match since he had to abandon his semi-final at Roland Garros on July 3 with torn ankle ligaments. Four members of the top ten will take part in the women’s race, with Iga Swiatek as the unthreatened primus.

With Father Time tapping on his shoulder, many eyes will be on Rafael Nadal. — ©  AFP

Who will we miss?

Because when the invitations were sent out in October it was not yet clear whether Novak Djokovic would be allowed to re-enter Australia after his legal problems in January 2022, Serbia is not on the starting list. Carlos Alcaraz, the number one in the world, prefers a different run-up to the Australian Open. Of course, Russia and its Belarusian vassal remain in exile. With its large delegation from the top ten, Russia would nevertheless have been one of the top favourites. The late cancellation of local crowd pleaser Nick Kyrgios, on the other hand, caused the almost inevitable portion of controversy. Tsitsipas, among others, openly doubted Kyrgios’ ankle injury. Which then landed him, and the press, on a Twitter diatribe from the Australian.

Novak Djokovic will not be there in the United Cup. — ©  REUTERS

Weren’t there similar tournaments?

Do you have a moment? Professional tennis already has about half a dozen in its relatively short history cups see it come and go. Who remembers the Grand Slam Cup, which gathered the best players from the four majors in Munich at the end of the season with a record $2 million check in the 1990s? Davis Cup and Fed Cup (renamed Billie Jean King Cup since last year) are trying to gain momentum again through new formulas, but that remains a difficult story. Tormented by public indifference and financial loss, the ATP Cup in Australia lasted only three seasons.

The Laver Cup, an initiative of Roger Federer, pits the best Europeans against the rest of the world. The United Cup is actually closest to the Hopman Cup, a mixed competition that flourished between 1989 and 2019. Kim Clijsters and Xavier Malisse once doubled at that event, which actually pitted Roger Federer and Serena Williams at its last edition in 2019. What an organ point.

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