The United Cup, a mixed-team competition, with 18 teams in three Australian cities -- Sydney, Brisbane and Perth -- will take place from Dec. 29-Jan. 8. The joint WTA-ATP event, in partnership with Tennis Australia, has a prize pool of $15 million with the possibility 500 Hologic WTA and Pepperstone ATP rankings points.
Each tie will comprise two men’s and two women’s singles matches and one mixed doubles match to be played across two days. Three City Champions will advance to Sydney, with the next-best performing team from the group stage completing the semifinal field.
The U.S. will be in action on opening day in Sydney when it takes on the Czech Republic, one of the most formidable teams on the WTA. From 2011-2018, the Czech Republic won the Billie Jean King Cup on six occasions.
“First off, any team event is great for the game,” American Frances Tiafoe recently said. “To see players come out for each other, get out their comfort zone, I think fans will enjoy it. And then, guys and girls playing together is great. I think it will only help their tour and ours. I think everybody wins."
World No.1 Iga Swiatek competes under the Polish flag, while 22-time Grand Slam singles champion Rafael Nadal will be in action for Spain. Still, it is Greece, a nation of only six million, that is the top-seeded team. It’s the only country with two players ranked among the top six -- No.6 Maria Sakkari and No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“What I’m most excited about is Greece is a very small country,” Sakkari, who is scheduled to play her first match Friday, recently said. “Just a country like Greece in front of all the big countries like the U.S. and England, France, Germany. Just to have a country the leader of that Cup. It’s big.”
Poland is the No.2 seed, followed by the United States, Spain, Italy and France.
Perhaps the 2022 results in the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup will provide clues to who will succeed Down Under. Switzerland won the Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow, Scotland, with Bencic and Jil Teichmann defeating Australia in the final. On the men’s side, Canada -- led by Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime -- prevailed over Australia.
“I absolutely love [this new event] to be honest,” Bencic recently told Tennis Australia. “I think it’s going to be so interesting for the fans and players, I think the idea is great, to make a combined event like this. It’s really nice, and I hope it’s going to be very exciting and I’m looking forward to it. … We hope to make it to the finals so we can go to Sydney.”
The Hopman Cup, named for Harry Hopman, the Australian tennis player and coach, will return this July in Nice, France. For now, though, enjoy the festivities from Perth, Sydney and Brisbane -- an intriguing start to the first month of the season.
United Cup: Day 1 Order of play (Thursday, Dec. 29 local time)
Sydney, Ken Rosewall Arena
U.S. vs. Czech Republic (Group C)
Taylor Fritz (USA) vs. Jiri Lehecka (CZE), 12 noon
Madison Keys (USA) vs. Marie Bouzkova (CZE), to follow
Australia vs. Great Britain (Group D)
Nick Kyrgios (AUS) vs. Cameron Norrie (GB), 7 p.m.
Zoe Hives (AUS) vs. Katie Swan (GB), to follow
Perth, RAC Arena
Greece vs. Bulgaria (Group A)
Despina Papamichail (GRE) vs. Isabella Shinikova (BUL), 12 noon
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), to follow
France vs. Argentina (Group F)
Alizé Cornet (FRA) vs. Maria Carle (ARG), 6 p.m.
Arthur Rinderknech (FRA) vs. Francisco Cerundolo (ARG), to follow
Brisbane, Pat Rafter Arena
Italy vs. Brazil (Group E)
Martina Trevisan (ITA) vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia (BRA), 1 p.m.
Lorenzo Musetti (ITA) vs. Felipe Meligeni Alves (BRA), to follow
Switzerland vs. Kazakhstan (Group B)
Belinda Bencic (SWI) vs. Yulia Putintseva (KAZ), 7 p.m.
Marc-Andrea Huesler (SWI) vs. Timofey Skatov (KAZ), to follow