2020 was a dominant year for Russian tennis, with their two top stars lighting up the tour from the start of the year to the end. A strong showing at the ATP Cup in 2020 leaves the chances of winning the tournament very high for the Russia camp, boasted even more so this year with the emergence of a rising star in Andrey Rublev. Despite winning all nine of their group stage ties, only dropping a single match, the team were thrown out by eventual winners Serbia in the semifinals 3-0. Their dominance in the tournament should not be ignored, and off the back of plenty of titles and two of their top stars at the Nitto ATP Finals, Russia have as good a chance as ever to win the second edition of the ATP Cup.
Daniil Medvedev was as dominant as ever across his matches at the 2020 ATP Cup, foreshadowing his mixed success across the calendar year. He came into the tournament off the back of his first US Open final appearance. The Russian won all three of his group stage matches–against Fabio Fognini, John Isner, and Casper Ruud. Alongside teammate Karen Khachanov, the World No.4 bested the Italians in their doubles match but fell short against the United States. Regardless, Russia qualified for the quarterfinals, where Medvedev bested Diego Schwartzman in three sets to ensure their place in the semifinals. What awaited was a tie against Novak Djokovic. The Serbian won a grueling encounter before going on to win the inaugural title.
Medvedev in 2020:
Medvedev started the season the opposite to how he ended it. The 24-year-old dropped one set in his opening three matches of the tournament before the Round of 16. He was knocked out of the Australian Open by three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in a thrilling five-set clash. Medvedev only participated in two more tournaments before the resumption of the tour. He lost his first match at Rotterdam to World No.104 Vasek Pospisil before crashing out of Marseille in the quarterfinals. The Russian overcame a 1-6 first set loss to Jannik Sinner to come out victorious, before being bageled by Giles Simon in the quarterfinals. His dip in form would carry over when the tour resumed in August.
Going into Cincinnati as defending champion, Medvedev couldn’t recapture the form that bought him his second Masters 1000 title. The No. 3 seed was bested by Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals despite winning the opening set 6-1. A strong run at the US Open saw Medvedev reach the semifinal without dropping a set. He overcame teammate Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals in straight sets, before losing to eventual winner Dominic Thiem. However, he followed that with a string of poor performances. He crashed out of Hamburg and the French Open in the first round, then failed to retain his title in Saint Petersburg by losing to Reilly Opelka in the Round of 16. A poor display in Vienna followed, but Medvedev soon turned his year around.
The Russian was dominant at the Paris Masters, beating the likes of Alex de Minaur, Diego Schwartzman, and Milos Raonic on the way to the final. He beat fellow NextGen star Alexander Zverev to capture his third Masters 1000 title. Medvedev then put on a faultless display at the Nitto ATP Finals. He became the first player in history to best the top three seeds at the year-end finals on his way to the biggest title of his career. The Russian won every match, beating Djokovic in the round robin, Nadal in the semifinal, and exacting revenge on Dominic Thiem in the final.
Medvedev at the 2021 ATP Cup:
Russia has been drawn alongside Japan and Argentina in Group D at the 2021 ATP Cup. This leaves Medvedev facing Diego Schwartzman for the second year running after their fiery encounter the year before. The Russian has a 5-0 head-to-head record against the Argentine, besting him on the way to his third Masters 1000 title in Paris last year. Japan’s top seeded player remains Kei Nishikori thanks to his protected ranking. The two have played four times, each taking a final off the other. The Japanese star beat Medvedev in Brisbane, whilst the Russian bested Nishikori on home soil to win the Tokyo event in 2018.
2020 was a year to remember for Andrey Rublev. The Russian won the most titles on the tour, eclipsing the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Missing out on the ATP Cup last year to fellow Russian Karen Khachanov, Rublev is a guaranteed mainstay in the team and is unlucky to miss out on being the first-string player.
Rublev in 2020:
The season started as good as it could have for the 23-year-old, winning back-to-back titles in his first two tournaments. He won Doha, besting Corentin Moutet in straight sets in the final, before issuing the same fate to world no.91 Lloyd Harris in Adelaide. His run at the Australian Open came to an end at the hands of Alexander Zverev in the Round of 16, not before beating world no.11 David Goffin. He’d go on to lose in the quarter-finals of both Rotterdam and Dubai before the pause in the season. Consecutive losses to Dan Evans at both Dubai and then in Cincinnati came before his best run at a Grand Slam, reaching the finals of the US Open. Rublev bested world no.8 Matteo Berrettini before losing to this year’s teammate Daniil Medvedev in straight sets. He then crashed out of Rome in the Round of 32 to Hubert Hurkacz.
A string of impressive performances opened with his third title of the season in Hamburg, beating 2nd seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets. The two would meet again at the French Open, this time Tsitsipas besting the Russian in the quarter-final. This was enough to ensure a year-end top 10 place for Rublev. His fourth title of the year came in his home nation at St Petersburg, upsetting Denis Shapovalov in the semi-final before beating 7th seed Borna Coric. This was followed by his final title of the season in Vienna. Dominic Thiem fell to Rublev in the quarter-final before beating Kevin Anderson and Lorenzo Sonego for the title. His Paris Masters 1000 journey came to an end at the hands of Stan Wawrinka before losing in the round robin at the Nitto ATP Finals. However, he recorded a second win over finalist Dominic Thiem in London.
Rublev at the 2021 ATP Cup:
His first appearance at the ATP Cup matches Rublev against the second string players from both Argentina and Japan. World no.44 Guido Pella represents Argentina as the second highest ranked player having only played Rublev once before. The two met at the Doha semi-final in 2018 with the Russia prevailing in three sets. For Japan, Yoshihito Nishioka will face Rublev having won two of three matches in last year’s tournament. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the group stage as Japan took on Spain.
Third-string player Aslan Karatsev makes his ATP Cup debut this year, while Teymuraz Gabashvili misses out altogether. He is ranked No. 113 in the ATP Rankings and more commonly known on the Challenger circuit. He won the Prague 2 Challenger event last year, including a walkover victory over Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka had beaten Karatsev in the final of Prague 1 earlier in the season. He recorded two main tour wins last year, most notably against Tennys Sandgren in St Petersburg. He also won in Sofia after two qualifying rounds, beating Taro Daniel in straight sets.
Karatsev at the 2021 ATP Cup:
As one half of the Russian double pairing for the 2021 ATP Cup, Karatsev will be facing Argentina and Japan at the tournament. Horacio Zeballos is representing Argentina. He won the US Open doubles in 2019. Alongside Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, Zeballos is the only other man to beat Rafael Nadal in a clay court final, winning the VTR Open in 2013. New Zealand born Ben McLachlan represents Japan, and he played at the tournament the year prior. He won one of three matches, beating the doubles team from Uruguay before losing to Spain and Georgia.
The final member of team Russia is 30-year-old Evgeny Donskoy, currently No. 123 in the world. He has a career-best ranking of No. 65 after winning five Challenger events in 2013. In 2017, the Russian recorded his first top-10 win, against Roger Federer, besting the Swiss maestro in Dubai. His only win on the ATP Tour in 2020 came as he upset World No.85 Egor Gerasimov in the St. Petersburg Round of 32.
Donskoy at the 2021 ATP Cup:
Donskoy makes up the fourth member of team Russia for the 2021 ATP Cup. Maximo Gonzalez represents the fourth player for Argentina, established as a doubles player. He played at the tournament last year four times, winning twice against Poland and Croatia but falling short against Russia and Austria. He also won in Adelaide last year. Japan line up the same as last year with McLachlan and 42-year-old Toshihide Matsui. The two won one match last year against Uruguay before losing to Georgia. Unlike McLachlan, Toshihide did not play in the match against Spain.
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