By James Steel
Early in December the ITF announced the comeback of the Hopman Cup, four years after it was put into hibernation by the tennis body. The revamped competition will be taking place in a new location, time of year and surface. From the hard courts of Perth, Australia in January, the Hopman Cup will now take place on the clay in Nice, France in July.
The format will remain somewhat the same with six national teams competing over five days. Each team will have one man and one woman, who will play one singles match each and a mixed doubles decider if required. This differs somewhat from the United Cup where there will be 24 national teams competing and 5 matches per tie. It also differs from the gender-specific Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
I question how successful the Hopman Cup can be. My first concern is the time of year to play on the clay. Taking a holistic view of the tennis calendar, we can see that the main clay court season runs from the beginning of February with events such as Estoril for the men and Charlestown for the women all the way through until the Roland-Garros, ending in early June.
Between Roland-Garros and the Hopman Cup, though, you have the grass court season. Grass is wholly different from clay in height of bounce, speed and movement, and it often takes players a few matches to adjust to playing on the lawns. So it’s quite possible that the quick clay-grass-clay turnaround would lead to error-laden matches at the Hopman Cup, leading to big names going out early or poor quality overall. Which top ranked players would want to put themselves through that?
Also, most players that play ATP and WTA 250/500 tournaments on clay this time of year tend to either be clay court specialists who predict either an early round exit at Wimbledon or not participating in the tournament altogether. Players looking to boost their rankings would likely look to these tournaments, like Hamburg, Gstaad, or Palermo, before the Hopman Cup.
The Hopman Cup may also struggle to land the biggest names. At this point in the season, they’ll have just finished playing two grand slam events in two months. With the grind of summer hard courts ahead, they may well be looking for R&R rather than a team tournament played on a surface very different from the hard courts in Flushing Meadows. Given that the Hopman Cup has no ranking points attached, huge financial incentives will be needed to bring the biggest names to the Nice clay. In 2024, the tournament is well-positioned to prepare players for the August Olympics held at Roland Garros in Paris, but the Hopman Cup won’t have that help every year.
Lastly, I have to hit on the congestion of team-based events in the calendar. With the United Cup at the beginning of the season (with which the Hopman Cup shares some qualities), the Davis and BJK Cup at the end and the quantity of events throughout the year, the Hopman Cup will have several competitors for attention. Which team event is the one to watch? The Hopman Cup will just be drowned out and it will be difficult to get sufficient support behind the event to make it seriously prestigious.
My fear is that the Hopman Cup decision was made on nostalgia for a tournament that had some big moments in the past. The tournament is going to be at the wrong time and on the wrong surface. Perhaps the Hopman Cup could live on in its name, replacing “United Cup,” but the current situation makes it hard to project a rosy future for the newly revived tournament.