Casper Ruud will carry an unexpected target as his group’s top-ranked player when Norway return to the ATP Cup.
The late withdrawal of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal’s COVID-19 setback has opened up the draw for the Norwegians, who will play against Serbia, Spain and Chile in the teams event in Sydney.
Ruud shot into the world’s top 50 at the beginning of the 2020 season when he beat top-20 pair John Isner and Fabio Fognini in Perth in the team event’s debut.
He’s now No.8 in the world and one of a host of fresh faces eyeing opportunities given No.1 Djokovic and 20-time major winner Nadal could miss the Australian Open.
Roger Federer’s absence from the ATP Tour since midway through the season because of a knee injury has also created openings for emerging stars.
“We were underdogs in every match we played (in 2020),” Ruud recalled.
“I was able to get two good wins in Perth, which was kind of the beginning of a good year for me.
“This year I wouldn’t have been the No.1 player in the group if Novak would have played.
“Of course I will try of course to win every match, but at the same time, every match will be tough. Every opponent is a tough opponent.”
Chile boast world No.17 Cristian Garin, Serbia will be headed by No.33 Dusan Lajovic and Spain have a typically stacked squad.
Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta – the world’s No.19 and 20 – provide a formidable one-two punch even without Nadal.
“There are three points (to win from three rubbers) so it’s very important to have good team, not just a good No.1,” Carreno Busta said.
“I think that in this case Spain has a very good team; good No.1 in Roberto, but also No.2, 3,4, and 5.”
World No.2 Daniil Medvedev, No.3 Alexander Zverev and No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas provide the star power in their respective groups.
Australia will play France, Italy and Russia and be led in singles by Alex de Minuar, who has dropped to 34 in the world.
But Greek leader Tsitsipas said the tournament, won by Russia last year and Serbia in 2020, was about more than rankings.
“For each of us, representing Greece on an ATP Cup level means a lot,” he said.
“Greece is known to excel in team events such as football and basketball, it’s in our nature.
“We have a team of young players more hungry than anyone else and that makes us stand out.”