The United Cup: Another Successful Team Event?

Thinking back to 2017, I remember the first edition of the Laver Cup. There was heavy scepticism about the event and how exactly it would draw interest, being just an ‘exhibition’ with no ranking’s points on offer. Many tennis fans (or a least the purists) criticised the team format, hoping to preserve the individual element that makes our sport so unique. There were also claims that the tennis calendar was saturated with too many team events, with the already-existing Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Hopman Cup.

Flash forward to 2023, and team events have certainly changed, but not in the way the naysayers may have thought. The new Davis Cup format has turned out to be a good move, while a Laver Cup ticket is one of the most sought-after in the sport, especially for 2022 and Roger Federer’s last match, where individual tickets were re-selling for several thousands of pounds. The United Cup, replacing the ATP Cup with a brand-new mixed format, finally bringing together the inexplicably divided ATP and WTA Tours was a highly watchable, high quality event, despite a number of key players not being available to play. Any question of participants not being as invested as they would be for a standard tour level match was quashed with some sensational tennis, where we saw the best of the likes of Cameron Norrie, Taylor Fritz, Matteo Berrettini and Hubert Hurkacz, who has recently struggled for form.

In the end Team USA claimed victory with a comfortable 4-0 win over Italy. Despite not having the highest ranked individual players like Poland with Iga Swiatek or Spain with Rafael Nadal, it was the strength in depth that contributed to the success of the two finalists. Lorenzo Musetti, who has just cracked the Top 20 for the first time and Matteo Berrettini played some of their best tennis in months kept Italy in contention, while the consistency of Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe contributed heavily to the success of the Americans. However, it was the standout performances of Jessica Pegula which got the USA over the line, who ended with 9 wins out 10 matches over the competition in singles and doubles. Most notably, Pegula thrashed World Number One Iga Swiatek 6-2 6-2 in just 71 minutes in a particularly impressive display, having lost 4 times to Swiatek in 2022. Fritz, Pegula, Keys and Tiafoe carried on winning in the final against Italy, with only Fritz being pushed by Matteo Berrettini, but eventually coming out on top after two tiebreaks.

All in all, the United Cup has turned out to be positive all round. It is a great warm-up event for the Australian Open, giving the players a great chance to play against high-ranked opponents in front of sell-out crowds from the get-go, where previously players would have turned to playing smaller events to get themselves ready for the first Grand Slam of the year. The Team style provides a new dimension to the game and makes it feel as though there is a lot at stake in every match and is a great watch for fans. If organisers can get it right in terms of their selection of which nations participate and can attract the likes of Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic (who played and won in Adelaide instead), the United Cup could become a must-watch for all tennis fans, and maybe even the casual viewer too.