BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Nick Kyrgios served 20 aces in a win that cost him $4,000 in local currency and helped set up Australia’s opening ATP Cup win over Germany.
It was all for a cause. Kyrgios, so often considered the bad boy of tennis for his emotional behavior and outbursts, promised to donate 200 Australian dollars ($140) for every ace he serves this month to go toward the recovery effort from the wildfires that have devastated large parts of Australia, leaving at least 19 people dead and 1,400 homes destroyed.
He opened and closed his 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win over Jan-Lennard Struff on Friday in Brisbane with booming, high-value serves — including a second-service ace down the middle to close it out.
Alex De Minaur followed that up with an upset over No. 7-ranked Alexander Zverev, trailing a set and a break before rallying to win 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 at Pat Rafter Arena to clinch the best-of-three match for Australia ahead of the doubles.
Kyrgios devised the cash for aces idea earlier in the week, and inspired other fundraising efforts from other players and from organizers of the ATP Cup and the Australian Open. He said he was lifted by the crowd, and motivated by the plight of people struggling in parts of the country impacted by the fires, including his hometown of Canberra. A tournament had to be relocated from the Australian capital to Victoria state earlier Friday because of the proximity of the fires.
“I just thought it would be a good initiative,” Kyrgios said of the idea. “And then the traction it got, just seeing my hometown almost being on the alert and having, like, just the worst air quality in the world literally at the moment. It’s just sad to see.
“It’s tough to go out there and concentrate on tennis, to be honest. Every ace I was hitting that’s all I was thinking about. Every time I stepped up to the line that’s all I was thinking about.”
The Canadians registered the first victory of the new international team tournament, and the United States went down in the first major upset despite being one point from clinching a win over Norway.
The 24-team tournament kicked off the men’s tennis season for 2020, with matches Friday in Brisbane and Sydney on Australia’s east coast and Perth in Western Australia state.
The Canadians took an unassailable 2-0 lead ahead of the doubles when Denis Shapolvalov held off No. 6-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4) after 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Michail Pervolarakis in the first singles victory of the tournament. They the combined to win the doubles to complete a 3-0 sweep of Greece.
The No. 15-ranked Shapovalov now has a 3-1 lead in career meetings over ATP Finals champion Tsitsipas, who was unable to convert his break-point chances in the seventh and 11th games of the second set and then had a double-fault on match point.
“It’s definitely a huge win for me. Obviously, he had an unbelievable end to the season and he’s definitely one of the top players in the world right now,” Shapovalov said. “He’s got a great game. So to beat a guy like this first match of the year, it’s really special for me. It means a lot.”
In Perth, Taylor Fritz beat Viktor Durasovic 6-2, 6-2 to give the Americans the lead in the Group D match and John Isner had two match points in the second-set tiebreaker of the second singles match before Casper Ruud rallied to win 6-7 (3-8), 7-6 (12-10), 7-5 to level it for Norway. Ruud and combined with Durasovic to beat Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek 4-6, 6-3, 10-5 to seal Norway’s 2-1 win.
“What I need to do is really just put this match behind me as best as I can, because at times it wasn’t pretty out there,” Isner said. “So hopefully I can fix some things and try to play a little bit better on Sunday.”
In Sydney, Belgium secured the best-of-three match against Moldova, the last team to qualify, when Steve Darcis held off Alexander Cozbinov 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 and David Goffin beat Radu Albot 6-4, 6-1. The Belgians then won the doubles for a 3-0 sweep. The Moldova team got a formal apology from tournament organizers after the wrong national anthem was played before the match.
Some players have questioned the rationale of playing the new team event so soon after the Davis Cup finals in November, but the first day of competition drew praise for some of the innovations — including the court-side team zone where coaches and players gather during the matches.
“It’s an amazing feeling that as soon as you have something to say or if you are next to that corner to your team, you can speak, you can say what you feel. And also they can, before a point or before an important moment, you hear what they are saying,” Goffin said. “It was fun.
“For my part, two coaches on my right and on my left during the matches. It’s something great. And we won the first tie, so at the moment it’s 10 out of 10.”
The winners from each of the six groups and the two best runners-up will advance to the quarterfinals, which will start in Sydney on Jan. 9.