SYDNEY • Tennis' innovative new team championship kick-starts the new men's season tomorrow, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic among those looking for a winning start ahead of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year.
The ATP Cup, to run until Jan 12, will see 24 countries split into six groups across three Australian cities, with eight teams emerging from the round robin to compete in a knockout phase.
It is the latest and the third men's team event competing for the hearts and minds, and dollars, of fans, along with a revamped Davis Cup and the Laver Cup, which pits Europe against the World.
But the ATP Cup has already suffered setbacks, with major draw Roger Federer opting to give it a miss to spend more time with his family, and Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori pulling out injured.
Despite this, world No. 2 Djokovic said the move towards more team tennis was good for a sport best known for the individuality of its superstars.
"More than 90 per cent of the time, we're playing as individuals and we don't have too many team events," said the Serb.
"This is going to bring together a lot of nations and, for me personally, it will be a very nice and proud moment to represent my country. An event like this is truly going to make an impact."
Group ties will be in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, while Sydney hosts the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final, with US$15 million (S$20.3 million) in prize money and up to 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP ranking points at stake.
Australian star Nick Kyrgios agrees with Djokovic, believing it will be "an awesome event".
He added: "There's nothing better than playing for your country against the other best players in the world."
With bush fires raging around Sydney and elsewhere in the country, tournament director Tom Larner said officials were ready in the event of air quality problems.
"We have got medical experts on site during the tournament who will be advising in relation to conditions and ensuring that it is safe for players to play and also safe for our fans and our ballboys and staff," he added.
The championship will feature two ties each day during the round robin.
Each tie comprises two singles matches and a doubles. Under the format, the second-ranked singles players from each team face each other first, then the top-ranked men, ahead of a potentially decisive doubles.
A team winning two of three matches will claim the tie.
Belgium kick off the Sydney action against Moldova before Britain face Bulgaria.
Stefanos Tsitsipas' Greece take on Canada before Kyrgios spearheads the local hopes against the Alexander Zverev-led Germany in Brisbane.
First up in Perth will be the United States against Norway, followed by the clash between Daniil Medvedev-powered Russia and Italy.
Djokovic makes his debut in Brisbane for Serbia on day two, as does Spanish world No. 1 Nadal in Perth.
Previously, the men's season kicked off with various smaller-scale tournaments, and outgoing ATP chairman Chris Kermode said it made far more sense to have everyone under one umbrella.
"The ATP Cup fits perfectly with our strategy to innovate and look towards the future," he said.
"The first week of the season is when the players want to play and that's why the tournament has their strong support."
Formerly a joint ATP-WTA event, the Brisbane International starting on Monday will be a women's only tournament this time. It ends on Jan 12, ahead of the Jan 20-Feb 2 Australian Open.
Venus Williams, 39, who had been given a wild card for Brisbane, pulled out with an undisclosed training "setback" yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS