Behind Hewitt & Henman, Aussies & Brits To Clash In ATP Cup Final Eight
Australia has been dominant thus far at the inaugural ATP Cup, thrilling its home crowd in Brisbane by winning all three of its ties without dropping a set. Great Britain did not advance to the Final Eight as easily, waiting nervously Tuesday evening for Belgium to defeat Bulgaria 2-1, making Team GB the Group C winners.
But now, all those results mean little. Australia and Great Britain, great sporting rivals in cricket, rugby, tennis and more, will clash once again on a big stage with a spot in the semi-finals of the ATP Cup on the line in Sydney at Ken Rosewall Arena.
“They have got a pretty even team across the board, singles and doubles, and they're used to the Sydney conditions as well, playing there all week,” said Team Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt. “It's going to be a tough one.”
The first match Thursday morning, beginning at 10am local time, will pit Aussie Nick Kyrgios against Brit Cameron Norrie. Kyrgios has started his season well, defeating powerful German Jan-Lennard Struff and reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in Brisbane.
Norrie went 2-1 in Group C, but none of his opponents were inside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. Two years ago in Atlanta, Norrie led Kyrgios 7-5, 3-0 before the Aussie retired due to injury.
The No. 1 singles match will feature one of the grittiest players on the ATP Tour in Alex de Minaur and one of the world’s craftiest in Daniel Evans. In their only previous ATP Head2Head last year in Montreal, he defeated the Aussie 6-4, 7-6(6). Aussies Chris Guccione and John Peers are scheduled to play Brits Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury in doubles.
Hewitt hasn’t been able to see all the matches with so many ties going on across three cities. But he’s seen enough to know that the Britons have been improving as the event has gone on, especially Evans, who most recently beat David Goffin and Radu Albot.
“He's sort of got better as the event has gone on, so he's probably got used to the conditions. That's probably the toughest thing for us, coming from a different city, them being here and acclimatised, they know how centre court is playing. So that's something we've got to adjust to tomorrow when we go out there,” Hewitt said. “I think Dan, I think Cameron Norrie has probably got better, as well. He probably had a bit of a slow start, but he's got better. So it's going to be two tough matches for us [in singles].”
An added element is that these two captains, Hewitt and Great Britain’s Tim Henman, battled one another plenty during their days on the ATP Tour. Hewitt won nine of their 10 ATP Head2Head clashes, so Henman will cherish the opportunity to get one back on the Aussie.
“I have certainly kept an eye on the other cities and what's been going on there. It would be a lot of fun if that were the case,” Henman said of the prospects of facing Australia. “Obviously I have a lot of history with Lleyton and everyone knows the team well, the Australian team. It would be a big challenge. But we would love that opportunity."
Hewitt caught up with Henman at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre upon his country’s arrival Wednesday, chatting with the Brit near the players’ entrance.
“I think it's great to have some of those icons of the sport and their country. I think it adds a lot of weight to the competition,” Hewitt said. “Tim as a coach, I think he's pretty switched on with how he sees the game, as well. I have no doubt that he'll be able to help these guys. Probably Dan Evans, his game style and stuff, I'm sure he's got some pretty good tips for him and the way that he goes about it.”
Based on Australia’s group stage performance, the home fans could feel good about their country’s level. But Hewitt wants his team to focus on the moment, so the Aussies will look no further than Great Britain.
“We know that every match is going to get tougher from here on in. Plus now it's knock-out, so you’ve got to be ready to go,” Hewitt said. “We have obviously got an early morning match on Thursday in Sydney, so it's about the boys recovering as well as possible and getting ready for that challenge.”