United Cup

Rafter Anticipates 'Exciting' United Cup As Swiatek, Ruud Among Brisbane Big-Hitters

Former ATP World No. 1 welcomes arrival of ATP and WTA stars to home state
December 20, 2022
Patrick Rafter meets ball kids on Sunday at Brisbane's Pat Rafter Arena, a group-stage venue for the inaugrual United Cup.
Glenn Hunt/Getty Images
Patrick Rafter meets ball kids on Sunday at Brisbane's Pat Rafter Arena, a group-stage venue for the inaugrual United Cup. By ATP/WTA Staff

As someone who knows what it takes to reach the top of the game, Queensland tennis legend Patrick Rafter is in no doubt about the level WTA World No. 1 Iga Swiatek will bring to Brisbane for the inaugural United Cup.

“Swiatek is a great player,” said Rafter of the three-time Grand Slam champion and Team Poland star on Sunday during a visit to Pat Rafter Arena, the venue which bears his name and is set to host group-stage action at the new mixed teams event. “I saw [her play] a lot because I watched a lot of Ash [Barty] playing. So whenever I watched Ash as well, they were coming up against each other, and she's had a really great year.

“She's got a lot of smarts about her, she's one of those girls that I thought had that sort of X element part of the game and by all accounts is a really lovely girl as well. I know Ash is a really big fan of hers, so she'll be great to have here.”

World No. 12 Belinda Bencic and No. 15 Beatriz Haddad Maia are among the other WTA stars representing their countries from 29 December to 4 January in Brisbane, where they will be joined by some heavy-hitters from the ATP Tour. ATP World No. 3 Casper Ruud, No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 16 Matteo Berrettini and 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka will all hope to help their respective nations qualify for the United Cup Final Four, to be held in Sydney from 6-8 January.

“Ruud [is here], Hurkacz is here, Berrettini, you've got some really strong players here,” said Rafter. “But you're also going to see some fresh faces and names that you might not know who are actually very, very good players too, and probably the next up-and-comers. So this will be a pretty exciting tournament.”

The United Cup is set to kick off the 2023 season on both the ATP Tour and the WTA Tour, with 18 nations competing in six groups across Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Each tie will comprise of two ATP and two WTA singles matches, and one mixed doubles match, and the round-robin format of the group stage guarantees some early-season clashes between some of the world’s biggest stars.

“You're going to see some of the great players playing multiple matches,” said Rafter. “A lot of the times if a player does come down here and they lose first round you don't get to see them again. You will be guaranteed those matches.

“The concept of team sports has been working really well. I think we saw it here with the ATP Cup. We saw how engaged they all were with their team and their boxes and things like that. The United Cup is going to have the same type of feel. Like the old Davis Cup, Blllie Jean King Cup, those type of events… I think [the idea] has some legs and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.”

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During his stellar career on the ATP Tour, Rafter lifted 11 tour-level titles including back-to-back victories at the US Open in 1998 and 1999, and reached No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 1999. He believes the United Cup offers something unique for present-day players on both Tours and is positive about the impact it can have on the future of the game.

“It's a great concept,” said Rafter. “Let's see how it goes. Tennis Australia are really good, they like to try new initiatives. They're having a crack at the men and women playing together. I’m really interested to see how it plays out. Hopefully all of Brisbane and all this area, the surrounding areas, will come down and have a look at it.

"When I played, you rarely saw the men and women come together, [but] they are starting to join. I think it's important, it's just extra content, it's just an extra dynamic with the players and the people in the stands can watch. It's a good idea… It's a really interesting concept, this particular one.”

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