ATP Cup updates: Australian James Duckworth out of opening match, Canada vs. USA awkward photo blunder, Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Taylor Fritz

James Duckworth missed out on playing in the Davis Cup last year and now there’s even more bad news for the Sydney native.

Two traditional rivals went head-to-head at the ATP Cup on Sunday but a hilarious moment before the second of Canada’s clashes with the USA certainly helped break the tension.

Just hours before play began, Canadian left-hander Denis Shapovalov withdrew from his team’s first singles match of the day, citing fatigue following his time in isolation with Covid-19.

The World No. 14 tested positive on arrival in Sydney and while he has since been released from biosecurity protocols, opted to sit the match out.

“I’m disappointed not to be able to play the first match, but I just didn’t feel ready physically yet, so we did what is best for the team,” he said.

The 11th hour withdrawal pushed World No. 238 Brayden Schnur into the limelight, where American World No. 24 John Isner took just over an hour to steamroll him in straight sets.

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The second clash, contested by World No. 11 Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and America’s Taylor Fritz (No. 23) got off to an inauspicious start.

As is customary, the pair posed either side of the net for a picture before the match.

However, no photographer turned up to capture the top-seeded players from the rival nations, leaving the players smiling into the abyss.

“There’s no photographer, you can leave,” said a match official, realising the error.

The players then dispersed for what began as a tightly-fought contest.

Fritz ultimately defeated his opponent to ensure the USA would clinch victory over Canada with a match in hand.

Australia’s ATP Cup campaign got off to a shaky start before the first ball was even served with news that James Duckworth had been ruled out of his first match of the tournament.

Despite his hot form at the time, Duckworth missed out on representing his country at last year’s Davis Cup and in another blow to the Sydney native, he has now been sidelined with hip soreness.

The injury makes Australia’s assignment on Day Two of the tournament even more challenging than it already was.

Australia’s top seed Alex de Minaur (No. 34) will face off with 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini as planned, but now World No. 10 Jannik Sinner will meet Australia’s Max Purcell, who is ranked Number 176.

In the second of the earlier match-ups, Russia was pitted against the French, who were a last-minute inclusion after Austria withdrew in the days before the new year.

World No. 167 Roman Safiullin caused a major upset by defeating Arthur Rinderknech (No. 58) from a set down in the first match.

The win put Russia in the box seat ahead of the final two matches, the first of which was contested by world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who looms as the ATP Cup’s headline act after Novak Djokovic pulled out.

However, Frenchman Ugo Humbert was up for the contest, losing the first set in a tie-break before claiming the second.

Medvedev knows better than most that the ATP Cup can provide a golden opportunity for players to hit the ground running at the start of the calendar year.

He went on to have a career-best year after Russia took out top honours in last year’s event – by winning the US Open, his first Grand Slam title, he became the only man other than Djokovic to win a Grand Slam in 2021.

He also won in Mallorca, Marseille and at the ATP Masters 1000 in Canada and made the final of the Australian Open.

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