Defending champions Serbia were handed a “brutal” draw in the ATP Cup Friday, with Novak Djokovic’s team facing Germany and Canada in the group stage.

The tournament – launched last year as a rival to the Davis Cup – has been slimmed down to 12 teams this year and will be played in Melbourne as a curtain-raiser to the Australian Open, rather than the multi-city format employed in 2020.

It was delayed to February 1-5 because of Covid-19 restrictions in the host city and the prize money on offer has also been halved to US$7.5 million, reflecting a leaner, pandemic-affected budget.

Commentator Mark Petchey said the Serbians faced a tricky draw in Group A against the Alexander Zverev-inspired Germany and a Canada team featuring Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic.

“That first group that’s come out is pretty, pretty brutal really with Serbia, Germany and Canada,” Petchey said.

“Obviously there’s a lot of talent in the Canadian team, particularly with someone like Raonic on these (hard) courts.”

In Group B, Spanish great Rafael Nadal will line up for his homeland against Greece and Australia, who received a wild-card entry as tournament hosts.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem’s Austria are pitted against Italy and France in Group C, while Russia, Argentina and Japan compete in Group D.

World number one Djokovic successfully used the event as an Australian Open warm-up last year, leading Serbia to victory over Spain in the final before claiming his eighth major at Melbourne Park and 17th overall.