SYDNEY: Reigning champions Serbia, led by world number one Novak Djokovic, will play Germany and Canada in the group stage of the ATP Cup in Melbourne next week after the draw was made on Friday.
The men’s team competition made its debut in cities around Australia last year but will be truncated and played only at Melbourne Park from Feb. 1-5 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will, however, offer the players their first competitive outings after the 14 days of hotel quarantine they had to undergo ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on Feb. 8.
Djokovic led Serbia to the inaugural title with a victory over Rafa Nadal’s Spain in Sydney last year but his path to a return to the final was not helped by a tough draw in Group A.
The Germany team will be spearheaded by Alexander Zverev, while Denis Shapovalov is the standout player in a Canada side also featuring Milos Raonic.
The winning team from each of the four first-round groups will go directly into the semi-finals.
Nadal’s Spain team will play Greece and Australia in Group B, an easier draw given the Greeks have little depth beneath world number six Stefanos Tsitsipas and the hosts will be without Nick Kyrgios.
Kyrgios paid the price for a year of inaction because of COVID-19 concerns when his world ranking slipped to 46, leaving Alex de Minaur to lead the home side.
Kyrgios has since slipped another place to 47th.
Dominic Thiem’s Austria were the top seed in Group C and they will face Italy and France, while Russia will be favourites to top Group D ahead of Argentina and Japan.
Russia are the only team with two top 10 players in their side in Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, while Argentina and Japan are led by world number nine Diego Schwartzman and world number 41 Kei Nishikori respectively.