The inaugural edition of the United Cup was interesting, in principle it was a void to fill in the Australian summer following the tossing away of the Hopman Cup which now languishes on its deathbed in France.
Emerging from the ashes of the ATP Cup, which was highly successful in its first year in 2020, the tournament has combined the stars of the ATP and WTA to play in an extravagant competition spread right across the width of the continent.
However, the 2023 edition that saw the USA conquer the field just didn’t feel quite right, with the competition feeling too convoluted.
Three host cities and 18 teams battled it out across 11 days, with each tie being played across two days, pretty confusing if you ask me.
If a country tops a group it goes to the city finals, which is played against the other table-topping team in that respective capital.
You win that, and you went to the semifinals.
Lose, and you could still make it depending on how your group stage record looked compared to the other two unsuccessful countries.
In this year’s case it was Italy who scraped through by the skin of their teeth on set percentage over Croatia.
Thank heavens that the 2024 event has completely scrapped the city finals and reduced the hosting duties to two cities in Sydney and Perth, with the Brisbane International making its return instead.
The new format will run along the lines of the 2020 ATP Cup, where each of the six group winners will progress to the quarterfinals with the best second placed team in each city.
Much cleaner for an 18-team event.
In addition, fixing the format of each tie seems like a huge tick, with just three matches played instead of five.
It worked for the Hopman and ATP Cups, so the logic of having five for the United Cup hardly made sense.
2024 will see one men’s singles match, one women’s singles and a mixed doubles rubber, ensuring that each tie is as concise as it needs to be.
The quarterfinal tie between Australia and England in the 2020 ATP Cup will live in tennis folklore for decades to come, especially the famous doubles rubber between the Kyrgios and de Minaur combination against Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury.
Factoring in such rounds and brackets into the United Cup can only elevate stakes to humungous levels with an abundance of points and prizemoney on the line. It brings some essence to the tournament and entices fans into the do-or-die clashes.
The only negative surrounding the reduction in matches is the fact that some of the lesser ranked players on each team might not get much match time, but the opportunity to spend time among the best in the world is a sensational experience that they will surely relish.
Pressure is well and truly on the United Cup to succeed in 2024, with the new format a much needed change from its opening staging.
It establishes that the tours and event itself are willing to change and are responsive to feedback. The hunger seems to be there for it to succeed and if it does, it is only a wonderful thing for tennis that can open up an abundance of options for the future.
It could be an exciting era for tennis. Here’s hoping for success.