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Cameron Norrie knows he will be the hunted rather than the hunter as he prepares to lead Great Britain in their ATP Cup campaign to kick off 2022.
Less than four weeks after the last season ended with Russia lifting the Davis Cup trophy, the tennis calendar kicks off again with a very similar event in Sydney.
After exiting in the group stages of the inaugural competition in 2020, Britain did not qualify last year but Norrie’s unexpected rise to the verge of the top 10 means they are back in the field.
Their campaign begins on Sunday with a rematch against Germany, who they lost to in the Davis Cup quarter-finals, and it will be an even tougher assignment with Alexander Zverev in the German team.
The draw was not kind to Britain, who also take on Canada and the USA in group matches, meaning singles matches for Norrie against Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz.
“It’s exactly where I want to be, and exactly the matches I want to be playing and have this kind of preparation for the Australian Open and be seeded,” said the world number 12.
“I can’t complain. I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. I think it’s just a slightly different mindset.
“A lot of the time last year I was being the underdog and going out and hunting those guys, whereas now I think some of the time it’s going to be people hunting me.
“The pressure only gets more, but I’m looking forward to it and feeling good physically and excited to kick off the year in such a great team event.”
Dan Evans will be Britain’s number two, while Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray team up in doubles. The captain’s role, meanwhile, is being fulfilled by singles number three Liam Broady.
Five-time finalist @andy_murray is awarded a main draw wildcard.
“Andy is renowned for his fighting spirit, passion and love of the game and I’m delighted to welcome him back to Melbourne in January.” – @CraigTiley
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) December 23, 2021
He said: “I think everyone is feeling confident. We’re here to win the event. I’ve heard the guys say that a few times already.
“For me, first time as a captain, it’s a pretty new experience. Having to go to captains’ meetings and organise the team kit and stuff like that is a pleasure. We’ll do the best we can.”
With only two weeks to warm up for the season’s first grand slam in Melbourne, it is always a hectic period.
Covid-19 threatens to cause major problems, with a number of players forced to withdraw from the ATP Cup and other events already.
World number one Novak Djokovic pulled out of Serbia’s team without explanation and the waiting goes on to see whether the nine-time Australian Open champion and vaccine sceptic will make it to Melbourne.
As well as the ATP Cup, there are ATP and WTA events in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Rafael Nadal expressed doubts about travelling Down Under even before a bout of coronavirus as he prepares for his main tour return following a foot problem, but the Spaniard has made it to Melbourne and headlines the ATP event there.
Andy Murray will have breathed a big sigh of relief when he stepped off the plane having missed out last year following a positive test for Covid-19, and the 34-year-old is set to play at the Australian Open for the first time since emotionally opening up about his hip problems three years ago.
After two-and-a-half years of physical struggles, the last six months have brought renewed optimism that Murray may have some highlights left in his career.
Much attention will of course focus on US Open champion Emma Raducanu, who has overcome her own bout of coronavirus and will kick off her first full season in Melbourne.
Raducanu will play her first event with new German coach Torben Beltz in her corner before competing in just her third grand slam tournament.
Also beginning her season in Melbourne is Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, who is back on tour for the first time since the US Open after her mental health struggles, while world number one Ashleigh Barty is the top seed in Adelaide.