Led by Taylor Fritz and Jessica Pegula, U.S. opens as favorites for inaugural United Cup
G’day, mate: The 2023 tennis season has arrived—and some of the U.S.’s biggest stars are teaming up for a new mixed-gender team event to prepare for the Australian Open: the United Cup.
The U.S. has good reason to consider itself favorites in the inaugural competition, which begins in three cities across Australia on Thursday and runs for 10 days: Not only it is the only one of the 18 teams that boasts four Top 20 players, its roster is also made up of some of 2022’s breakthrough talents.
Top 10 players Taylor Fritz and Jessica Pegula lead a squad that also includes world No. 11 Madison Keys and world No. 19 Frances Tiafoe, each of whom reached a major semifinal in 2022; the in-form Alycia Parks, who ended 2022 on a 10-match winning streak; and Denis Kudla, as well as doubles players Desirae Krawczyk and Hunter Reese. The team will be coached by Pegula’s personal coach David Witt, the 2022 WTA Coach of the Year.
"I think we have a great team," Tiafoe told reporters on Wednesday’s Media Day. "Hopefully we can win it. Hopefully Taylor, Jess and Madi can carry me. It's easy to compete when it's not about you."
The United Cup features 18 countries drawn into six round-robin groups, competing in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Each round-robin tie, played over two days, is made up of two ATP and two WTA singles matches and one mixed doubles match. The winner of the 'city final' from the three locations will advance to the semifinals, as will the best-performing team that doesn’t win its pool.
The U.S. will compete in Group C along with Germany and the Czech Republic in Sydney. It’s a stacked pool that also features two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova and 2020 US Open finalist Alexander Zverev, who’s playing his first tournament in seven months, after an ankle injury suffered at Roland Garros and a later bone edema issue ended his 2022 season early.
Youth will also be served by the other two teams in the form of 21-year-old Czech Jiri Lehecka, who finished 2022 inside the Top 100 and finished as runner-up to Brandon Nakashima at the NextGen ATP Finals, and 23-year-old German Jule Niemeier, who reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and also was nominated for the WTA’s 2022 Newcomer of the Year honor.
For players like Fritz and Pegula, whose 2022 seasons ended in November after they each qualified for their respective year-end championships, it’s a swift turnaround from what was a grueling last 11 months. Couple that with star-studded competition—eight Top 10 players are representing their respective countries—and winning it all will be a tough ask. But world No. 3 Pegula, the highest-ranked woman competing in Sydney and second-highest in the competition behind world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, says the U.S. will relish the challenge.
"It's always a tough turnaround but I think the guys had even less time," Pegula said. "For me, it felt like it was enough. A lot of us had to fly over Christmas and that's not fun—but coming and starting the year with a team event it's a different energy, maybe more relaxed, more of a fun atmosphere, a little less stressful.”
Day 1 will see Fritz take on Lehecka and Keys face Marie Bouzkova, a 2022 Wimbledon quarterfinalist ranked in the Top 25. On Friday, Day 2 of the tie, Pegula will face Kvitova and Tiafoe take on Tomas Machac. Mixed doubles will conclude the tie.
The U.S. will then play Germany between Jan. 2-3. The semifinals will be played in Perth from Jan. 6-7, and the competition concludes on Jan. 8.
“I think this is obviously a unique format, so I'm excited to be here,” Keys said. “[I] have known all of these people for a really long time, so excited to start the year off back in a place that I've always had a lot of success, but with a new format, shaking things up.”
Sign up for our Newsletter
Sign up for our Newsletter