Thursday, February 22, 2024

United Cup preview and best bets

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Having ended 2022 with a 33/1 winner, our tennis man Andy Schooler is back to preview the opening event of the 2023 season, the United Cup.

Tennis betting tips: United Cup

3pts USA to win the tournament at 7/2 (General)

1pt e.w. France to win the tournament at 16/1 (1/3, 1-2 Betfred)

2pts France to win Group F at 13/10 (Coral, Ladbrokes)

1pt Brazil to win Group E at 5/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook


United Cup

  • Sydney, Brisbane & Perth (outdoor/indoor hard)

Welcome to the 2023 tennis season.

It all begins on Thursday at 0100 GMT with the event kicking us off being the new United Cup.

It’s a mixed team tournament, one which replaces the ATP Cup on the men’s side and essentially revives the Hopman Cup which previously kicked-off the season but was last played in 2019.

Before considering the potential winners, we first need to know the format, so here goes.

There are 18 teams, split into six groups of three. Each team can have as many as eight players (four men and four women).

The group stage will be played across three cities with two groups based in each. The two group winners in each city play off for a place in the knockout stage (to be held in Sydney). The fourth semi-finalist will be the play-off loser with the best record from its three ties.

The semi-final draw has already been made and is as follows:

  • SF1 – Winner B/E v Winner C/D
  • SF2 – Winner A/F v Best RU

However, there is a proviso, namely that if SF2 results in a repeat of a ‘city play-off’ then the draw will be rejigged with the highest-seeded country from SF1 being paired with the best runner-up.

Each tie (except the final) will be held over two days and feature two men’s singles rubbers, two women’s singles rubbers and one mixed doubles rubber. The singles will be played over the best of three tie-break sets (ie regular ATP/WTA format). If the first two sets of the mixed doubles rubber are split, the match will be decided by a champions’ tie-break.

The order of the ties is as follows:

Day one

  • Men’s no 1 v Men’s no 1
  • Women’s no 2 v Women’s no 2

Day two

  • Women’s no 1 v Women’s no 1
  • Men’s no 2 v Men’s no 2
  • Mixed doubles

What else do we need to know?

Well, conditions have been pretty speedy in Australia in the past couple of years – basically since Tennis Australia opted to lay Greenset courts. Dunlop Australian Open balls should help that continue.

In Perth, they will play indoors – the retractable roof is due to be kept closed – while in Brisbane and Sydney the action will take place under a suspended roof (one which allows the air to flow freely into the arena but prevents rain falling onto the court).

After the ‘city play-offs’ take place on January 4, there will be a ‘travel day’ for the semi-finalists to get to Sydney where the knockout stage will be held from January 6-8. Clearly the team which comes through the groups in Sydney will have the advantage of not having a flight to deal with mid-tournament.

As for how seriously this inaugural event is taken, well, organisers have done their best to ensure it’s competitive with a US$15million prize find and a maximum of 500 ranking points up for grabs.

Still, the fact is this remains, in virtually every player’s eyes, a tune up for the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the season which begins in just two and a half weeks.

However, it should be remembered that when the ATP Cup’s short life began in 2020 there were similar concerns about the competitiveness and those turned out to be very much unfounded.

Any way, that hopefully has everyone up to speed. Now let’s take a look at those 18 teams and assess their chances.

GROUP STAGE – PERTH

GROUP A

Greece

Men – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Michail Pervolarakis, Stefanos Sakellaridis, Petros Tsitsipas

Women – Maria Sakkari, Despina Papamichail, Valentini Grammatikopoulou, Sapfo Sakkelaridi

Probably have the two best singles players in this group – both Stef Tsitsipas and Sakkari sit in the top 10 – but they’ll need another point from somewhere in each tie and that could be problematic. Maybe the duo will team up in doubles too but that’s a lot of tennis to start the season with.

Belgium

Men – David Goffin, Zizou Bergs, Kimmer Copperjans, Michael Geerts

Women – Elise Mertens, Alison van Uytvanck, Magali Kempen, Kirsten Flipkens

Look more of a ‘team’ with Elise Mertens and Alison van Uytvanck looking a strong duo for the women’s singles, while David Goffin is still capable of turning it on and Bergs is no mug despite his ranking outside the top 100. Doubles could be key and Mertens is a fine exponent of that format, while if she’s tired from singles, Flipkens is another solid option. Don’t rule them out.

Bulgaria

Men – Grigor Dimitrov, Dimitar Kuzmanov, Adrian Andreev, Alexandar Lazarov

Women – Viktoriya Tomova, Isabella Shinikova, Gergana Topalova

Look likely to struggle with Dimitrov providing the only real class – he’s the only top-80 player in this team. Tomova will do well to notch wins against her expected opponents, while doubles options are lacking too. An early exit beckons.

GROUP F

France

Men – Arthur Rinderknech, Adrian Mannarino, Manuel Guinard, Edouard Roger-Vasselin

Women – Carolina Garcia, Alize Cornet, Leolia Jeanjean, Jessika Ponchet

As one of only two teams to have four players ranked in the singles top 50, France warrant respect. WTA Finals champion Garcia is a genuine star, capable of beating anyone in this field if she plays as she did in the second half of 2022. She’s also a decent doubles player. Cornet is good back-up too. The worry comes on the men’s side but Rinderknech could make good use of fairly quick conditions, while Mannarino looks a strong ‘number two’, particularly in this group.

Croatia

Men – Borna Coric, Borna Gojo, Matija Pecotic

Women – Petra Martic, Donna Vekic, Tara Wurth, Petra Marcinko

Not without hope but will likely need the enigmatic Coric to enjoy one of his good weeks. Martic and Vekic – ranked 39th and 69th respectively – are decent singles options, although the former would probably prefer a slower court. Their tie against the French looks key to this group.

Argentina

Men – Francisco Cerundolo, Federico Coria, Thomas Martin Etcheverry

Women – Nadia Podoroska, Maria Carle, Paula Ormaechea

When it comes to Argentina, court surface is always key to their chances and there’s no doubt all of their team would rather be playing on clay. It’s likely going to be too quick for this bunch to win this against the quality this group has to offer and I can’t see them making it to Sydney.

GROUP STAGE – BRISBANE

GROUP B

Poland

Men – Hubert Hurkacz, Daniel Michalski, Kacper Zuk, Lukasz Kubot

Women – Iga Swiatek, Magda Linette, Weronika Falkowska, Alicja Rosolska

The Poles look strong. World number one Swiatek is as close to a guaranteed point as you’ll get in this tournament, while Hurkacz, the men’s world number 11, is also a great option. The obvious weakness is in the second men’s singles slot but on the women’s side Linette is a top-50 player. Doubles is also an area of strength with specialists Kubot and Rosolska, who have played together before at the Slams, able to team up to give their singles stars a rest.

Switzerland

Men – Stan Wawrinka, Marc-Andrea Heusler, Dominic Stricker, Alexander Ritschard

Women – Belinda Bencic, Jil Teichmann, Ylena In-Albon, Joanne Zuger

There are lots of strong singles players in this team – all four are in the top 60 – while Stricker is an excellent back-up to have. Olympic champion Bencic can beat the best, while Teichmann is the highest-ranked second singles woman in Brisbane and should garner points. Their clash with Poland could decide this group and perhaps it will come down to the doubles where the Swiss options don’t look so good.

Kazakhstan

Men – Alexander Bublik, Timofey Skatov, Denis Yevseyev, Grigoriy Lomakin

Women – Yulia Putintseva, Zhibek Kulambaveva, Gozal Ainitdinova

Look too reliant on their two singles stars and given the level of opposition they will have to face, it seems unlikely the Kazakhs will win many rubbers, let alone ties. The rest of their team aren’t in the top 100 with Kulambaveva, set to play singles, ranked beyond the top 400. Rank outsiders.

GROUP E

Italy

Men – Matteo Berrettini, Lorenzo Musetti, Andrea Vavassori, Marco Bortolotti

Women – Martina Trevisan, Lucia Bronzetti, Camila Rosatello

Have two excellent men’s singles players, albeit Berrettini will be feeling his way back from injury. The rest of the team is worrying though. Trevisan is the world number 26 but her ranking is largely based on her claycourt performances, while there’s no obvious doubles pair. May still have enough to come through a weak group though.

Brazil

Men – Thiago Monteiro, Felipe Meligeni Alves, Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida, Rafael Matos

Women – Beatriz Haddad Maia, Laura Pigossi, Carolina Alves, Luisa Stefani

Another South American nation who would prefer a claycourt underneath their feet but they should not be discounted, at least in this group. Monteiro has played well in Australia in the past couple of years, while Haddad Maia is the highest-ranked women’s singles player in the pool. Matos and Stefani offer doubles specialism, something which could prove crucial.

Norway

Men – Casper Ruud, Viktor Durasovic, Andreja Petrovic

Women – Ulrikke Eikeri, Malene Helgo, Lilly Haseth

The definition of a one-man team with Ruud offering the only real quality. His ranking of fourth got his nation into the tournament but it is the others’ rankings of all outside the top 300 which pretty much guarantee they will be making a group-stage exit.

GROUP STAGE – SYDNEY

GROUP C

USA

Men – Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Denis Kudla, Hunter Reese

Women – Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys, Alycia Parks, Desirae Krawczyk

Easily the strongest team on paper and no surprise to see them chalked up as the bookies’ favourites. All four singles players are in the top 20 with Keys comfortably the highest-ranked second singles woman in the event, while only Spain have a higher-ranked second man. As an added bonus, USA also have an excellent doubles option in Krawczyk, who has won four mixed titles at Grand Slam level in the last two seasons. The team to beat.

Germany

Men – Alex Zverev, Oscar Otte, Daniel Altmaier, Fabian Fallert

Women – Laura Siegemund, Jule Niemeier, Anna-Lena Friedsam, Julia Lohoff

Overall, the Germans look a fairly strong team but sadly for them they’ve landed in the toughest group. Zverev launched his comeback from long-term injury pretty well in the recent exhibition events in the Middle East, beating Novak Djokovic in Dubai, while women’s singles number one Siegemund is also highly-ranked in doubles. Niemeier and Otte would look good second singles players in another group but here they may struggle to pick up points.

Czech Republic

Men – Jiri Lehecka, Tomas Machac, Dalibor Svrcina

Women – Petra Kvitova, Marie Bouzkova, Jesica Maleckova

Women’s singles is the obvious Czech strength with two top-30 stars. However, both Kvitova, who has a strong record in Australia, and Bouzkova will face higher-ranked opponents against the USA (injuries notwithstanding). Lehecka and Machac are both improving youngsters but their quality probably isn’t going to cut it here.

GROUP D

Spain

Men – Rafael Nadal, Pablo Carreno Busta, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, David Vega Hernandez

Women – Paula Badosa, Nuria Parrizas Diaz, Jessica Bouzas Maneiro

Nadal is the highest-ranked man involved in the United Cup but we’ve not seen his best level for some time now due to injuries. He’ll need to hit the ground running – as he did in Australia 12 months ago – in this tricky group but he admitted on Wednesday that the “only thing that I am focused now is try to put myself in a competitive level”, which isn’t exactly the most positive statement in terms of this event. Carreno Busta is the highest-ranked second singles man, so it’s clear where Spain are strong. Like Nadal, Badosa hasn’t shown her top level for a while but she’s capable of notching wins in this competition. Hernandez is also a notable inclusion for doubles duty if Nadal doesn’t want to push his body through that.

Australia

Men – Alex de Minaur, Jason Kubler, John Peers

Women – Ajla Tomljanovic, Zoe Hives, Maddison Inglis, Sam Stosur

The late withdrawal of Nick Kyrgios due to an ankle injury is a hammer blow to Australia’s chances. He could have played singles and doubles and while Peers is a strong alternative in the latter format, Kubler seems likely to struggle in the former. De Minaur is a good singles player but even with the home crowd behind him, playing as ‘number one’ looks a tough ask in this group. The Aussies will need De Minaur to win points as the women’s side looks weaker with Zoe Hives a fairly lightweight second singles player. Should go well in mixed doubles though – both Stosur and Peers have won Grand Slam titles in the format, the latter at September’s US Open.

Great Britain

Men – Cam Norrie, Dan Evans, Jan Choinski, Jonny O’Mara

Women – Harriet Dart, Katie Swan, Ranah Stoiber, Ella McDonald

One suspects Norrie and Evans are going to need to win most, if not all, their singles rubbers for GB to stand a chance. The female side of the team is weak with Dart up against it, although perhaps Swan can step up against what are hardly fearsome opponents. O’Mara provides doubles specialism but given the strength in that format in Britain, this team is not as strong as it might have been.

VERDICT

Long-term readers of this column will know I’m not one to regularly back favourites but I believe USA are the correct market leaders here and, most importantly, that their price of 7/2 still offers some value.

They have four top-20 singles players in their line-up, as well as an excellent doubles player in Krawczyk.

While it’s far from impossible they lose, it’s going to take a lot to go right for an opponent to win three rubbers against them.

Their biggest challenge will likely come from a team with a couple of true stars – think Poland or Spain – but even then you are still needing another point from somewhere and USA are going to give little away, it would appear.

I’ll happily back them while also eyeing a longer-priced each-way shot.

While the uncertainty over the semi-final draw makes this difficult, I’m going to try a punt on FRANCE at 16/1.

As things stand, they are on the easier side of the draw and I’m not really expecting that to change with the strongest runner-up unlikely to come out of Perth, in my opinion.

Aside from the US, the French are the only side to boast four top-50 singles players and those include a genuine star turn in Garcia, winner of the WTA Finals in November.

The others – Cornet, Rinderknech and Mannarino – all look capable of winning points, while France’s strong tradition in doubles may give them that extra push if they need it to get over the winning line.

In the group betting, I think they should be favourites to win Group F and backing them to do so at 13/10 is arguably the better bet. I’ll cover both bases.

Finally, I’ll also try a long shot in the group markets with BRAZIL overpriced at 5/1 in Group E.

I can’t see why Norway are considered more likely group winners than the South Americans and I’d expect the pool to come down to Brazil’s tie with Italy.

The Italians are favourites given the presence of Berrettini and Musetti but the former’s fitness is unproven, while the latter prefers slower conditions than he’s likely to get in Brisbane.

Haddad Maia is the best female player in this group and should win her ties, so one upset in one of the other singles could well send this to a doubles decider which Brazil, with Olympic medallist Pigossi among their number, would fancy.

Yes, Italy are still most likely to win this group but I definitely don’t believe Brazil should be out at 5/1 and a small bet looks worthwhile.

Published at 1355 GMT on 28/12/22


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