If there’s one thing the New Year is synonymous with in Perth, it’s the Hopman Cup.
That one week in January which kick-starts the Australian summer of tennis, and allows local fans to see some of the world’s best live in action. The brainchild of Australian players Paul McNamee, Charlie Fancutt and Pat Cash, who came up with the idea of holding a mixed-teams competition in honour of Davis Cup legend Harry Hopman, it has gone from strength to strength since its inaugural edition in 1989. Throughout its many changes and innovations over the years – the biggest undoubtedly being the move from the Burswood Dome to Perth Arena in 2013 – the one constant has always been the presence of Lucy Hopman, Harry’s widow and the “Queen of the Cup”. While old age has recently prevented her from making the long trip to Perth from her home in the United States, she maintains a strong connection with the tournament and is part of what makes it such a unique event.
For those not totally familiar, the concept is based around two groups of four countries. The countries vary every year (though there is always an Australian and US team), and are represented by one male and one female player. Each team plays every other team in its group in a round-robin format (one women’s singles, one men’s singles, and one mixed doubles), with the group winners then facing off in the final to determine the overall champions – who incidentally receive some dazzling diamond-encrusted trophies.
For many of the players, not to mention the crowd, the highlight is the mixed doubles. Not only is it highly entertaining, it often also ends up determining the winners of the tie. In fact, the Hopman Cup is one of the few occasions people anywhere in the world ever get to see the world’s best singles players playing mixed doubles – it’s a truly rare occurrence. Did you know footage from the Hopman Cup was actually used as part of the (successful) argument to introduce mixed doubles at the Olympics? Thanks Perth.
A new dimension added this year will see two Australian teams competing – Australia Gold in Group A and Australia Green in Group B. While this may certainly help the odds for the home favourites, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this year’s field also includes the likes of Serena Williams and Andy Murray, who, I think we can all agree, are pretty handy tennis players in their own right.
So who exactly will be taking to the court in Perth this year? Read on..
Hopman Cup – Group A
Jarmila Gajdosova – Slovak-born Gajdosova has been playing for Australia since becoming a citizen in 2009. Currently ranked 105 after various injuries & illnesses (career high 25), she has 2 singles titles and 1 doubles title to her name. She was called in as a replacement for Casey Dellacqua, who was forced to withdraw with concussion issues.
Lleyton Hewitt – A two-time Grand Slam winner and former world number 1, Hewitt is one of the most patriotic players Australia has ever seen. Having helped his country to Davis Cup victory, he has also represented it here at the Hopman Cup on seven previous occasions, finishing runner-up in 2003 with Alicia Molik. He will be hoping to go one step further this year, before he ends his illustrious career a few weeks later at the Australian Open.
Karolina Pliskova – Stepping in for Lucie Safarova is world number 11 Karolina Pliskova, who is no stranger to representing her country, having recently led it to Fed Cup victory. With 4 career singles titles to her name, she served a whopping 517 aces in 2015. She also has a twin sister who plays on the WTA circuit.
Jiri Vesely – Like Pliskova, Vesely will be making his Hopman Cup debut this year. The 22-year-old is currently ranked in the top 50, and in 2013 was named the ATP Star of Tomorrow Award. He won his first career title on the hard courts of Auckland earlier in 2015, and will be hoping to continue his successes on the other side of the Tasman.
Elina Svitolina – The last time the Ukraine played in the Hopman Cup, Svitolina was barely 1 year old. She arrives in Perth ranked 19 in the world with 3 career singles titles to her name. Having reached the quarterfinals of this year’s French Open on clay, she’ll be looking to get her Australian season off to a good start on the hard courts at Perth Arena.
Alexandr Dolgopolov – The man with the tongue-twisting name has an equally mind-boggling game, and is known for producing some of the great hotshots on the ATP tour (see below). He has 2 career titles to his name, and also has some special ties with Australia: he made his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open in 2011, and was also formerly coached by Jack Reader, who hails from Adelaide.
Serena Williams – This lady needs no introduction. She was recently named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, and it’s not hard to see why. This year alone, she won 3 Grand Slam titles, only narrowly missing out on completing a calendar-year Grand Slam when she lost in the semifinals of the US Open. She is the undisputed women’s world number 1, with 69 career singles titles and 22 career doubles titles, not to mention 2 Hopman Cup crowns. She returns again in 2016 in a bid to capture her third – and perhaps order another on-court espresso from The Northbridge Coffee Roasters while she’s at it.
Jack Sock – One of the USA’s new talents on the men’s side, Sock will be making his Hopman Cup debut. Ranked in the top 30, he captured his first singles title in 2015 (Houston). Let’s hope he can live up to his nickname of “Showtime” when he takes to Perth Arena.
Hopman Cup – Group B
Daria Gavrilova – Russian-born Gavrilova finally became an Australian citizen a few weeks ago, enabling her to represent this country for the first time at the Hopman Cup. At just 21, she is ranked in the top 40 on the WTA Tour, and already boasts wins over Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic.
Nick Kyrgios – The controversial youngster from Canberra has had his fair share of the limelight in recent times. While he has certainly had his.. errr.. issues, there is no denying his tennis talent, which has seen him notch up victories over the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Making his debut at the Hopman Cup, he’ll be hoping to get himself back on track and put in good performances in Perth and beyond at the Australian Open, where he made the quarterfinals this year.
Caroline Garcia – Appearing in Perth for the first time in 2016, Garcia is coming off a year which saw her reach a career high singles ranking of 25, and career high doubles ranking of 13. She has already represented her country at Fed Cup level, and will now be adding the Hopman Cup to her repertoire.
Gael Monfils – This flamboyant Frenchman adds flair wherever he goes, demonstrating impressive athleticism. He says that if he didn’t play tennis, he would be a basketball player. He’s not a bad dancer either (see below – he’s the one in the white shirt). Currently ranked 24, Monfils has 5 career singles titles to his name, as well as a semifinals appearance at the 2008 French Open, plus quarterfinals appearances at the same event in 2009, 2011 and 2014, and at the US Open in 2010 and 2014. He’ll be making his Hopman Cup debut in 2016.
Sabine Lisicki – Returning to Perth for the third time, Lisicki is known for her fast serve (holding the world record for the fastest women’s serve ever at 210.8 km/h) and friendly personality. Her CV includes 4 career singles titles, plus impressive runs at Wimbledon, where she reached the singles final in 2013 and the doubles final (with Australia’s Sam Stosur) in 2011.
Alexander Zverev – At just 18 years of age, Zverev is already ranked in the top 100. He is a former junior world no. 1, winning the 2014 Australian Open boys’ title, and finishing runner-up at the 2013 French Open juniors. Training part of the time in the United States, he is no stranger to hard courts, and should provide some exciting tennis at his first Hopman Cup.
Heather Watson – Perth crowds will be familiar with Watson, who made her debut at the Hopman Cup last year. After winning her second career title just a week later (in Hobart), she went on to put in an impressive showing at her home Grand Slam, Wimbledon, where she came agonisingly close to toppling world no. 1 Serena Williams.
Andy Murray – World no. 2 Andy Murray is no stranger to Perth, having been a finalist here in 2010. He heads back to the Hopman Cup this year fresh off single-handedly steering his country to its first Davis Cup title since 1936 (beating Belgium in Belgium). With 2 Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic Gold medal already on his CV, the father-to-be loves preparing for the Australian season here in Perth. Let’s just hope his on-court performances are better than his Christmas outfits..
Whet your appetite? The Hopman Cup will be held at Perth Arena from 3 to 9 January 2016.
For tickets and schedules, visit http://hopmancup.com/