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United Cup preview: Mixed team event breaks new ground

The 2023 tennis season gets under way with the unveiling of a brand new tournament as Australia, the home of the first Grand Slam of the season, hosts the inaugural United Cup.

The team competition sees 18 nations compete for the trophy, with some of the biggest stars on the planet from both the ATP and WTA Tour coming together in the hunt for some early-season silverware.

The United Cup serves as a warm-up for next month's Australian Open and it has attracted a pool of talent, with Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Iga Swiatek and Caroline Garcia some of the heavy-hitters set to be involved.

What: United Cup
Where: Brisbane, Perth & Sydney, Australia
When: Thursday 29th December - Sunday 8th January, 2023
Odds: USA 3/1, Spain 4/1, Poland 11/2, Italy 10/1, France 10/1, Greece 10/1

What is the format of the new event?

The mixed team competition will be played across three Australian cities - Perth, Brisbane and Sydney - and each venue will host two groups of three.

In the group stage, there are two ATP and two WTA singles matches and if the overall scores are 2-2 after the singles fixtures, then a mixed doubles result will determine the winner.

After the round robin phase of the competition, the two nations which triumph in each group from each city will progress to the City Finals.

From there, the three winners of those fixtures - one from Perth, Brisbane and Sydney - will go through to the Final Four, with the last spot determined by the City Finals loser with the best losing record.

The Final Four consists of two semi-finals and a final, which is when the overall winner will be crowned at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre on Sunday 8th January.

Favourites on course for heavyweight clash

The United States and Spain head the betting for the inaugural competition, but a difficult draw means both are worth taking on at their current odds.

The Americans have collated a super-strong quartet with Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Jessica Pegula and Madison Keys the team entrusted with getting the job done.

But the Stars and Stripes have landed in one of the more competitive groups alongside Czech Republic and Germany.

The Americans may overcome that challenge, but the Czechs have a decent line-up in their own right with highly-touted youngsters Jiri Lecheka and Tomas Machac their male representatives.

They also have two top-25 performers on the WTA Tour in Petra Kvitova and Marie Bouzkova competing for them, so can't be taken lightly, while Germany have Alexander Zverev and the capable Jule Niemeier at their service.

Even if the USA can top Group C, it is likely that Spain will be waiting in what is effectively a quarter-final.

Spain are housed in Group D alongside Australia and Great Britain, and with both them and the USA playing their matches in Sydney, they'd be on course to clash.

The Spaniards have a talented quartet with the legendary Nadal set to play alongside Pablo Carreno Busta, Paula Badosa and Nuria Parrizas Diaz.

They should be able to overcome Australia, who look reliant on Alex de Minaur and Ajla Tomljanovic, while Great Britain need Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans to be at their best as their female duo of Katie Swan and Harriet Dart are vulnerable to this level of opposition.

Given the 3/1 USA and Spain, who are 4/1, soak up most of the market, there are solid grounds to look elsewhere.

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Impressive Italians could have their say

Italian tennis is in a healthy place at present with many of their performers on both the ATP and WTA Tour competing at a seriously high level.

It is, therefore, no surprise to see them fielding a strong quartet as former Grand Slam runner-up Matteo Berrettini, rising star Lorenzo Musetti, women's world number 26 Martina Trevisan and Lucia Bronzetti link up.

The Italians ought to readily overcome Brazil, who are dependent on the influence of Beatriz Haddad Maia, and Norway, who would be readily brushed aside were it not for the presence of Casper Ruud.

Winning Group E should be there for the taking and doing so would see them face Group B victors, who are likely to be Poland.

The Poles have an excellent team at their disposal with women's world number one Iga Swiatek and the male world number ten Hubert Hurkacz in attendance.

However, Daniel Michalski and Magda Linette are potential vulnerabilities, making their outright price of 11/2 look short enough.

On the whole, the Italians have more strings to their bow and at 10/1 represent the outright value.

France have plenty in their favour

For many years France have been renowned for having great depth to their tennis ranks and they have the ammunition to go well in this competition.

The inclusion of Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet gives them two excellent options for the WTA singles, while Arthur Rinderknech and Adrian Mannarino will also win their fair share of matches.

The French look the class act in Group F as Croatia are without star man Marin Cilic and Argentina are minus Diego Schwartzman.

Winning that section would then see them meet Group A victors, which would be one of Belgium, Bulgaria or Greece.

The Greeks have Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari in their team so must be respected, but Despina Papamichail and Michail Pervolarakis are relative unknowns and that could be their downfall.

Bulgaria need Grigor Dimitrov to be firing on all cylinders to stand a chance in the competition, and although Belgium have a more competitive foursome, France may still have their measure.

At 10/1, France have plenty in their favour.

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