Tennis Australia will launch a groundbreaking mixed-gender team tournament this December, but Russian and Belarusian athletes will be excluded.
The United Cup was finally confirmed on Thursday night after months of rumours and reports. It will take place from 29 December 29 to January 8 in three cities: Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.
It replaces the now-defunct Hopman Cup, which ran for 30 years but was scrapped in 2019. The Hopman Cup mainly served as a popular exhibition event and famously featured Serena Williams and Roger Federer playing against each other in its last edition.
The United Cup offers a similar mixed-gender format but will differ in that ranking points will be available – in a first for this type of event – as well as $15 million (£13.5 million) in prize money.
However, Russian and Belarusian players will be absent. Organisers followed the joint decision from the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Grand Slams in March, which blocked them from competing under their flag or at team events, due to Vladimir Putin's ongoing war in Ukraine.
"If you're doing a national team competition when players obviously are playing for that flag and for that national pride, all we're doing is taking the same position that the whole of the sport has taken," said tournament director Stephen Farrow.
The tournament will include 18 teams, with the first 12 countries qualifying via the six highest-ranked men and women who enter. The entry cut-off date is Nov 7, and the remaining six countries will qualify according to the best combined ranking of their highest-ranked men’s and women’s players.
The 18 teams will be divided across six groups of three, and play a round-robin format to fight for a place in the semi-finals and finals in Sydney. Each tie will include two men’s and two women’s singles matches and one mixed doubles match.
“We think to have women and men playing together in the same event is great and long overdue in the sport," Farrow added. "The idea of [Greece's Stefanos] Tsitispas playing with [Maria] Sakkari, and lots of other potential match-ups, is really exciting."
One match-up British fans will hope to see is Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu potentially taking to the court together. Both have previously spoken of their wish to play mixed doubles, and this competition would provide the perfect opportunity.
First, Britain must qualify. Organisers say that, at their most recent count, "Britain will make the cut". There is also an outside chance they could clinch one of the first 12 automatic spots, if British No 1 Cam Norrie rises far enough in the rankings. He is currently ranked 13th, but with Russia's Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev both ranked above him and ineligible, he could in theory nab a spot for Great Britain with a strong performance at next week's Paris Masters.
Former world No 1 Murray has already shared his support for the event. "I think it's something that's been missing from our calendar for a while," he said. "I think we are the only sort of global sport where the men and women compete at the same venues at the same time for the biggest tournaments. And I think that that's something that's really special about our sport and should be celebrated. So I think events like this will help bring all of the governing bodies closer together and it'll be a unique event for our sport."
The United Cup draw will be held on Thursday November 10.