What better way to start the new year in professional tennis than with a sequel of one of the best matches of 2023?

As fate would have it, the first women’s contest of 2024 features Beatriz Haddad Maia opposite Sara Sorribes Tormo on Friday at the RAC Arena in Perth, Australia. It’s Brazil versus Spain in the second iteration of the United Cup.

The last time they played, it was a certified barnburner with Haddad Maia escaping with a 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-5 victory -- a match that ran 3 hours, 51 minutes. It was the longest Hologic WTA Tour match of the entire season and delivered the ascendant Brazilian into the Roland Garros quarterfinals. She became the first Brazilian woman since Maria Bueno to reach a major quarterfinal -- 55 years after the fact.

In her 21st major, Haddad Maia cleared the second round for the first time. It was the third longest women’s match ever at Roland Garros and the 10th longest of the Open Era.

Thursday’s other marquee WTA Tour singles match is Great Britain’s Katie Boulter versus Ajla Tomljanovic -- two players with vastly different trajectories whose personal histories, nonetheless, suggest a tight match.


Boulter, now 27, was ranked No.126 last summer when she played her first opponent on the grass in Nottingham. Five matches later, she emerged with the title -- the first of her WTA Tour career -- and found herself ranked No.77. It was a life-changing win that granted Boulter access to Grand Slam main draws.

Day 1 order of play

Day session: (11) Spain vs. (17) Brazil starting at 10 a.m. local time 

  • Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs Thiago Seyboth Wild
  • Followed by: Sara Sorribes Tormo vs Beatriz Haddad Maia
  • Followed by: Mixed doubles match

Evening session: (8) United Kingdom vs. (15) Australia not before 5 p.m. local time

  • Cameron Norrie vs Alex de Minaur
  • Followed by: Katie Boulter vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
  • Followed by: Mixed doubles match

“For sure, only three matches, it’s definitely more intense,” Boulter said. “Every single rubber counts, every set counts, every point counts so ultimately we’re going to be fighting for everyone. It’s never over until it’s over, so I’m looking forward to going out there and fighting for my country.”

Tomljanovic, one of the leading characters in Season 1 of the Netflix series “Break Point,” had a tumultuous 2023 season. After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022, she rose to a career-high ranking of No.32 in April 2023. But it was nine months before she played again, at the US Open, following a knee injury. The 30-year-old Australian is ranked No.290.

The Australian has a 1-0 head-to-head edge, a straight-sets win at Nottingham in 2022.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Tomljanovic said. “Especially last year didn't go as planned for me. To be back here healthy and ready to compete with the team just gets me really excited.”

Changes to the 2023 United Cup

There’s a new United Cup format -- one that places a far greater sense of urgency on each match. A year ago, men and women played four singles matches and one mixed doubles, with three wins guaranteeing the tie. Now, it’s two singles followed by the potentially deciding meeting in mixed doubles. Each team has three women and three men.

A year ago, Caroline Garcia won both her matches for France.

“The format is better,” she said Thursday in Sydney. “For the fans, last year was very tricky to understand. It’s easier now, and played in one day instead of two, so every match is important.  The mixed doubles will finish the tie, and I think it’s a great way to finish it.”

Eighteen national teams are divided into six groups of three, playing an 11-day tournament in Perth and Sydney. Teams in Sydney will play on outdoor hard courts. Perth will feature an indoor hard court.

Five of the WTA Tour’s Top 10 women, including 2023 Player of the Year Iga Swiatek, will be on hand. Nine of the Top 20 ATP Tour men will also be in action.

Poland, featuring Swiatek and No.11-ranked Hubert Hurkacz, is the top-seeded nation, followed by Greece (No.6 Maria Sakkari and No.7 Stefanos Tsitsipas), and the defending champions from the United States (No.4 Jessica Pegula and No.10 Taylor Fritz) are No.3. The ATP Tour’s No.1 player, Novak Djokovic, will represent Serbia, along with Olga Danilovic.

“I think it’s a special event,” said Swiatek, who was part of the Poland team that fell to the United States in last year’s semifinals. “Really exciting, different than any other tournament. It's great to have opportunity to play with the team and feel little bit of the support from other players because usually we’re on our own on other tournaments.

“Last year the atmosphere was pretty great. I’m pretty sure this year is going to be the same. I remember, yeah, it has different emotional baggage when you play for your country. We gained a lot of experience. Hopefully we're going to be able to use it this year.”

Group winners in each city will advance to the quarterfinals, with one quarterfinal spot in each city awarded to the team with the best runner-up record. Winners advance to the semifinals and finals in Sydney. Teams advancing from Perth will receive a travel day and rest day on Jan. 4 and 5. The semifinals will be played on Saturday, Jan. 6 with the final set for Saturday, Jan. 7.