ATP Cup Team Profile: Spain and Rafael Nadal

When Group B of the 2020 ATP Cup concluded last year, Spain looked like the favorite to capture the maiden title of this new men’s team tournament. Winning all nine matches whilst only dropping two sets, the team comprised of Rafael Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Feliciano Lopez were the ones to beat. They stormed through Belgium and Australia in the next two matches to set up a final with eventual winners Serbia. Though they lost in the final, Spain looked the more dangerous opponent. Now, with a year’s more experience under their belt and a title to avenge, the Spaniards will hope they can dethrone Novak Djokovic and Serbia. Here’s how Spain line up for the 2021 ATP Cup.

Rafael Nadal:

2020 saw Rafael Nadal rise to the top of the tennis pyramid, drawing level with Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam titles–the most in history. His season started with a successful run at the 2020 ATP Cup, losing only once on his route to the final against David Goffin. Wins against the likes of Yoshihito Nishioka and Nikoloz Basilashvilli saw Nadal help Spain cruise through the group. His semifinal clash against Alex de Minaur is considered one of the best of 2020. Nadal bested the NextGen star in three sets to set up a 55th meeting against fiercest rival Novak Djokovic. On the line was the title, but also the World No.1 spot, with Nadal ahead after his triumph at the US Open in 2019. The two first seed players competed with Djokovic running out victorious, taking their head-to-head record to 29-26 in favour of the Serbian.

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Nadal in 2020:

Nadal’s loss in the finals of the ATP Cup did not serve him too well for his run at the Australian Open. The number one seed cruised through the early rounds, besting long-time adversary Nick Kyrgios before falling to eventual finalist Dominic Thiem in the quarter finals. The Spaniard regained some success in the final tournament before the pause in the season. Without dropping a set, Rafa cruised to his third title in Acapulco, beating Taylor Fritz in the final to capture his 21st ATP 500 tour title. Nadal decided not to travel to America to compete in the US Open and Cincinnati Masters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

His return to tennis came at the Rome Masters, with questions raised over the conditions in Italy and how Nadal would fair on his comeback. These doubts were quickly diminished in his first two matches before a shock defeat to the hands of Diego Schwartzman saw Djokovic overtake his total of Masters 1000 titles with 36.┬áNadal would have his revenge at the French Open, a tournament his dominance cannot be underestimated at with 13 titles–the most at a single Slam in history. He beat the likes of Jannik Sinner and exacted revenge on Diego Schwartzman to set up a tie against Djokovic in the final. Nadal was as dominant as ever, bagelling the World No.1 in the first set before comfortably winning the next two to capture his 13th title in Paris and squash any doubts Nadal was past his best.

What followed was successive semifinal appearances at the Paris Masters (an event Nadal is yet to win) and the Nitto ATP Finals, losing to Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev respectively.

Nadal at the 2021 ATP Cup:

Spain has been drawn in Group B for the 2021 ATP Cup with Greece and wild card Australia. Nadal, as Spain’s top player, will compete against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and, for the second year running, Alex de Minaur of Australia. He bested the Greek at the Nitto ATP Finals last year, also beating Tsitsipas to capture titles at Barcelona and the Canada Masters. Nadal and de Minaur will face off for the fourth time, the Spaniard coming out on top the last three times including at last year’s tournament and Wimbledon in 2018.

Roberto Bautista Agut:

Roberto Bautista Agut started 2020 off with a dominant performance at the ATP Cup, failing to drop a single set as Spain reached the final. A string of easier matches in the early in the competition saw him best the likes of Go Soeda of Japan and Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium. Spain’s dominance set up a tie with Australia in the semifinal, and for RBA–a clash with the eccentric Nick Kyrgios. The Spaniard walked the World No.30 in straight sets before his finals clash with Dusan Lajovic proved just as straightforward. His efforts at the tournament were not enough for Spain to capture the title, but stood the 32-year-old in good stead for the rest of the season.

Following the ATP Cup, Bautista Agut crashed out of the Australian Open in the Round of 32 following a thrilling five set match with former US Open Champion Marin Cilic. What followed was one better at Rotterdam, losing in the Round of 16 to ATP Cup teammate Pablo Carreno Busta. He lost to Jan-Lennard Struff in Dubai, but would return to the court with his best performance of the season. A string of high profile victories saw Bautista Agut make the Cincinnati Masters semifinal, taking the first set off eventual winner Novak Djokovic. He would beat the World No.16 Karen Khachanov and World No.5 Daniil Medvedev at the tournament. His run at the US Open was cut short by Vasek Pospisil before losing to Alexander Rublev in the quarterfinals of Hamburg.

Bautista Agut closed the year with a strong run in Cologne, losing to Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semifinal to round off a successful year.

Bautista Agut at the 2021 ATP Cup:

As the second highest ranked player representing Spain, Bautista Agut faces the second string players of both Greece and Australia in the group stage. He faces World No.462 Michail Pervolarakis of Greece, who lost all the matches he played at the tournament in 2020. Australia will field John Millman against RBA; the Spaniard has a 5-0 head-to-head record against Millman. The last time the two faced each other was Monte Carlo in 2019.

Pablo Carreno Busta:

Pablo Carreno Busta represented Spain at the 2020 ATP Cup playing only doubles with Feliciano Lopez and Rafael Nadal. Across six matches he won all three with Lopez against Georgia, Uruguay and Australia in the semifinal. With Nadal, Carreno Busta and his teammate beat the doubles pairings of Japan and Belgium before ultimately losing the deciding match in the finals to Novak Djokovic and 2021 Serbia captain Viktor Troicki.

2020 proved a stand-out year for the Spaniard, recording some major upsets across the season. He opened his account with a quarterfinal appearance in Adelaide before his Australian Open run was cut short by teammate Nadal in the Round of 32. A first round defeat in Montpellier came before an impressive run in Rotterdam. PCB bested Adrian Mannarino, Jannik Sinner, and teammate Roberto Bautista Agut before falling short in the semifinal to Felix Auger-Aliassime. A defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Dubai closed the first part of the season, but PCB would bounce back for his best showing at a Grand Slam in his career and a first Masters 1000 title. Alongside Alex de Minaur, Carreno Busta won the Cincinnati Masters Doubles title to capture his first title at that level, besting the pair of Murray and Skupski.

He would go on to reach the semifinal of the US Open. An unlikely win against Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16 after the Serbian accidentally struck a lines woman with a ball set up a quarterfinals clash with Denis Shapovalov. He beat the Canadian in five sets before losing to finalist Alexander Zverev. He would go on to have a strong showing at Roland Garros, making the quarter-finals before losing to Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard closed the year with a quarter finals appearance at the Paris Masters losing to Rafael Nadal.

Carreno Busta at the 2021 ATP Cup:

Carreno Busta will look to build on his doubles success at last year’s tournament with a strong showing against Greece and Australia. He faces Australian Open Doubles champion John Peers who the Spaniard beat alongside Lopez last year.┬áMarkos Kalovelonis is the third string player for Greece, competing only once at last year’s tournament, losing to Peers and Australia.

Marcel Granollers:

Marcel Granollers missed out on Spain’s finals defeat to Serbia last year with Feliciano Lopez taking the fourth spot. The 34-year-old has an established history playing doubles, winning three Grand Slams, the latest of which coming at the US Open in 2019. Granollers won two consecutive titles at the start of 2020 in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. He followed this up with a quarter-final appearance in Cincinnati before consecutive finals in Kitzbuhel and Rome, winning the latter. The Spaniard closed out the year with a semi-final loss at the Nitto ATP Finals.

Granollers at the 2021 ATP Cup:

Representing Spain in the doubles at the ATP Cup, Granollers will face Greece’s Petros Tsitsipas, the younger brother of World No.6 Stefanos. The 20-year-old lost both matches at last year’s tournament against Canada and Australia. Luke Saville represents Australia after losing in the final of the Australian Open doubles last year.

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