Pat Rafter expects ‘exciting’ United Cup as Iga Swiatek, Casper Ruud among Brisbane big hitters | ATP Tour

Pat Rafter expects ‘exciting’ United Cup as Iga Swiatek, Casper Ruud among Brisbane big hitters | ATP Tour

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As someone who knows what it takes to reach the top of the game, Queensland tennis legend Patrick Rafter has no doubt that WTA World No. 1 Iga Swiatek took Iga Swiatek to the first United Cup after Brisbane will bring.

“Swiatek is a great player,” Rafter said of the three-time Grand Slam champion and Team Poland star on Sunday during a visit to the Pat Rafter Arena, the venue that bears his name and which is set to host the group stage mixed- teams event. “I saw [her play] a lot because I’ve seen a lot of Ash [Barty] to play. Every time I watched Ash too, they competed against each other and she had a really great year.

“She has a lot of smartness about her, she’s one of those girls that I thought had that kind of X element as part of the game, and from what I’ve heard she’s a really pretty girl too. I know Ash is a really big fan of hers so it would be great to have her here.”

World No. 12 Belinda Bencic and No. 15 Beatriz Haddad Maia are among the other WTA stars representing their countries in Brisbane from December 29 to January 4, where they will be joined by some ATP Tour heavyweights will. ATP World No. 3 Casper Ruud, No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 16 Matteo Berrettini and 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka are all hoping to help their respective nations to compete to qualify for the United Cup Final Four to be held January 6th-8th.

“Ruud [is here], Hurkacz is here, Berrettini, they have some really strong players here,” Rafter said. “But you’re also going to see some fresh faces and names that you might not know who are actually very, very good players too, and probably the next up and coming players. So this is going to be a pretty exciting tournament.”

The United Cup is set to open the 2023 season on both the ATP Tour and WTA Tour, with 18 nations competing in six groups in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Each tie will consist of two ATP and two WTA singles matches and a mixed doubles match, and the group stage’s round-robin format guarantees some pre-season clashes between some of the world’s biggest stars.

“You’re going to see some of the great players playing multiple games,” Rafter said. “When a player comes down here and loses the first round, you often don’t see them anymore. You are guaranteed these matches.

“The concept of team sports worked out very well. I think we saw it here at the ATP Cup. We saw how committed they all were to their team and their boxes and things like that. The United Cup will have the same feeling. Like the old Davis Cup, Blllie Jean King Cup, those kinds of events… I guess [the idea] has some legs and I look forward to seeing what happens.”

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During his distinguished career on the ATP Tour, Rafter claimed 11 Tour-level titles, including back-to-back wins at the US Open in 1998 and 1999, and reached No. 1 on the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 1999. He believes the United Cup offers something unique for today’s players on both tours and is positive about the impact it can have on the future of the game.

“It’s a great concept,” Rafter said. “Let’s see how it goes. Tennis Australia is really good, they like to try new initiatives. They have a blast with the men and women who play together. I’m really excited to see how it develops. Hopefully all of Brisbane and all this area, the surrounding areas will come down and see it.

“When I was playing you seldom saw men and women coming together, [but] They start connecting. I think it’s important, it’s just extra content, it’s just extra dynamic with the players and people in the stands can watch. It’s a good idea… It’s a really interesting concept, this particular one.”

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