Mastery of multitasking could hold the key for success at the inaugural United Cup.
Six of the 18 nations in the mixed-teams event are led by “playing captains,” including four in Perth. Team Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov are two of the stars trying to balance supporting their teammates with their own match preparation in the Western Australian capital.
“It's a little different; I'm not gonna lie,” eight-time ATP Tour champion Dimitrov said.
On Thursday, he supported his teammate Isabella Shinikova courtside as she took on Team Greece’s Despina Papamichail, while simultaneously preparing for his own singles match (the next one on) against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I was in and out [of the team box],” said Dimitrov, who also has experience as a playing captain from the 2020 ATP Cup. “I had to eat some and rest some and tie my shoes and prepare. Usually, I have all that time to do things by myself for myself, and now it was in a completely different rhythm for me, which was okay. I mean, I did that in the ATP Cup.
“Obviously it takes a little bit more energy than usual, but I felt that I was managing it quite well, again, even with my match. So, it was a very close call. It's something that just you have got to deal with, I guess.”
Flipkens will also be juggling roles in Perth. The former WTA World No. 13 will captain from courtside but is a more-than-handy doubles option for her team, which kicks off its Group A campaign Saturday against Dimitrov’s Team Bulgaria. Flipkens, who reached the US Open mixed doubles final in 2022 alongside another playing captain in Perth, Team France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin, is intrigued at the prospect of balancing the two roles.
“We will have to find out in the next few days,” she said when asked about her approach to the captaincy at her team's pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday. “I just try to organize everything for the practices for the team, try to do as good as possible to schedule all the practices for now, and just take the responsibility.
“So far, so good, I guess. Right?” first-time captain Flipkens said jokingly to her team.
Day 2 from the United Cup
- Kvitova posts win vs. Pegula; U.S. beats Czech Republic
- Garcia routs Podoroska, secures French win over Argentina
- Switzerland stays perfect to beat Kazakhstan at United Cup
- Dart clinches victory for Great Britain at United Cup
- 'We played today to honor him': Brazil's tribute to Pele at United Cup
- Bronzetti clinches victory for Italy over Brazil in Brisbane
- Sakkari seals United Cup victory for Greece over Bulgaria
Yet even if Flipkens does feel pressure as a newcomer in the role, Dimitrov admits that his past ATP Cup experience does not necessarily make it easier.
“It's tough to watch!” said the former No. 3 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. “I have always said that. I have been in multiple player boxes over the years and watching matches on the side. Always, when you care, whether you like it or not, you feel the heat.”
Yet Flipkens already might already have a positive impact on her team even before they play their first United Cup tie. Team Belgium star Elise Mertens, No. 29 in the Hologic WTA Tour rankings and a 16-time tour-level doubles champion, did not hesitate to point to Flipkens when asked about the secret behind Team Belgium’s volleying prowess.
“We have a good example!” Mertens said. “The captain has good volleys!”