Stuff The Lack of Tradition, The ITF’s World Cup Tennis Finals Proposal Is Full of Problems
If you are a dedicated follower of tennis you know that on Monday, February 26th the International Tennis Federation (ITF) proposed radical changes to the 118 year old international Davis Cup competition, in cooperation with Kosmos Investment Group, who’s pumping a $3 billion investment into tennis over the next 25 years.
You can find our history of the Davis Cup here. The proposed new format is below (and in the Davis Cup history, too):
- The establishment of a season-ending World Cup of Tennis Finals (WCTF) that crowns the Davis Cup champions.
- The WCTF is played at a neutral site, chosen well ahead of time, and lasts 7 days.
- 16 countries go to the WCTF based on their performance to date, similar to the current World Group. These 16 countries, plus 2 that are selected by the ITF, are placed into 6 round robin groups of three teams each.
- The 6 winners of the round robin groups, plus the two teams with the best losing records, are fed into a quarterfinal knockout tournament.
- The winner of the knockout rounds is the year’s Davis Cup championship team.
- All team competitions consist of 2 singles matches and 1 doubles match, all matches are best of 3 sets.
- Promotion/relegation rules will again be in place, giving national teams not part of one year’s WCTF to gain entry in following years
Davis Cup moving to a 1 week event at the end of the year is LONG overdue. Now just make it every other year and we are cookin.
This proposal’s changes from current Davis Cup, summarized:
- The home/away match setting is eliminated in favor of a site chosen well ahead of the WCTF dates, which would likely be a neutral site (but does not have to be)
- Best of 5 matches are reduced to best of 3
- The current competition’s 4 singles matches at each team meet – opening day + Sunday’s reverse match-ups – are reduced to 2 singles matches
- Next year’s 16 teams competing in the WCTF are known almost a year ahead of time
- Two teams are entered in the WCTF, the new format’s version of the World Group, by being selected, not via competition
I’ve written about why I believe the calls to change Davis Cup are generally bogus. It’s not necessary to go through that again. The fact is this ITF proposal is full of fundamental problems, inherent in the proposed structure, and the ITF’s proposal conveniently glosses over all of them.
(1) How in the world are the players expected to compete at the pace of the schedule being proposed?
The WCTF – an 18 team construct of 6 round robin groups feeding a quarterfinal knockout draw – is to take place over 7 days.
In every round robin group of three each team plays two matches. Therefore each team’s player has two matches. This happens in the first 3 days. Two matches in 3 days, an OK schedule for a professional tennis player.
But then the quarterfinal matches follow, when a player has 1 additional match for each knockout round; meaning 3 matches for the players on the two finalist teams. Finalist team members will play 6 matches in 7 days, a schedule more grueling than any Grand Slam or Masters tournament, and that’s without considering how to fairly schedule teams for day and/or night matches throughout the week.
If the WCTF actually happens, somehow, it’s not hard to imagine there’ll be something like Tiebreak Tens introduced to solve this scheduling nightmare, distancing the WCTF even further from its storied Davis Cup history and competitive roots.
Jurgen Melzer @jojomelzer Feb 26 Replying to @MardyFish
I usually agree with u… but not on this one… smaller countries losing their chance to see their stars on home soil…plus home & away atmosphere is gone…wasn’t that what DC was all about?
(2) What site, anywhere, has the facilities required by the WCTF?
To simultaneously play the WCTF’s six round robin groupings you need at least 3 stadium courts, if not six. The WCTF could get by with 3 if they play two different team-duels per stadium, one in the afternoon session and another in the evening.
Beyond that, with 18 teams you need at least 9 practice courts; with two teams sharing the same court, 8 players practicing for 90 minutes requires 12 hours of a single court’s availability.
Outdoors? I have one word for that idea: rain.
Indoors? Only Melbourne and Madrid have three covered stadium courts. And the practice courts would have to be indoors as well, and reasonably close to the stadiums.
All together, a site will need a minimum of 3 stadium courts and 9 full-time practice courts. An outdoor-only site is unacceptable due to the chance for rain to wreak havoc on the schedule.
(3) National squads of only two players will be made extinct as far as the WCTF round is concerned.
While only a few such squads have had success winning the Davis Cup – Czech/2012 and 2013, Croatia/2005, to name two – no two players could compete for all the matches required to come through the WCTF. Smaller countries, unable to field a team of two strong singles players plus a solid doubles pairing, will never be able to break into the WCTF.
(4) The home/away flavor of the competition will be lost.
There are theoretical plusses to the idea of a neutral site announced well ahead of the competition’s actual dates: more sites are available when there’s more time to plan (subject to #2, above), and fans have more time to arrange travel plans.
But the hew and cry among Davis Cup combatants over this change tells us that we’ll be losing something truly special. They’re upset at losing the chance of playing at home, of being lifted to victory on the wings of a hometown’s encouragement. They bemoan missing the chance to notch a huge win at an away match while battling both the other player and the hometown crowd.
Tim Mayotte @TimMayotte Mar 1
I want 2 invite all Davis Cup players, former, present, to tweet their favorite moments playing 4 their nation. @USTA, @USDavisCupFans, @ITF_Tennis. Mine was playing in Mexico City in a Bull Ring with Mariachi Band. 15,000 crazed fans! Scent of bull fights in the red clay.
(5) The WCTF format banks on a national team’s fans committing to travel to a neutral site; no team’s fans will be in a hometown setting; each team’s level of audience support will depend on how many choose to travel. What cannot be calculated is how those fans will allot time for their tennis holidays. Will the finalist teams have any fans left on site to fill the stands, or will they have booked return travel before the finals, not knowing if their team was going to make it that far or not? Will other teams’ fans bother to take their seats at the final? Will television really pay to broadcast scenes of empty stadiums?
(6) The WCTF looks to expand tennis’ reach via television. Asia is already proposed as the neutral site for the first year, 2019. Will significant worldwide tv audiences tune in, given the time differences? For the sake of discussion we’ll use Beijing as a potential site. Consider:
2 PM/Beijing/on Thursday is:
- 1 AM New York City / Thursday
- 10 PM Los Angeles / Wednesday
- 6 AM London / Thursday
- 3 AM Buenos Aires / Thursday
- 9 AM Moscow / Thursday
Aside from the time zone issue, no one’s demonstrated that tv’s tennis audience is large and rabid enough to make weekday viewership a solid bet; not a lot of tennis eyeballs driving tv advertising ratings at 1 AM in NYC on a Thursday.
(7) A week’s competition means teams will have to arrive at least 2 or 3 days ahead of the first day’s matches; 10 days. The ATP November calendar already has the end of the Paris Masters, and the Next Gen Finals followed by the Nitto ATP Finals. Where will the WCTF fit in?
Admittedly Davis Cup already takes up 4 weeks of the annual calendar; one in January, one in April, the third in September, and the finals in November. Those weeks would be freed up. Current Davis Cup ties begin on Friday and end on Sunday. That necessitates players’ arrivals on Wednesday, with departures on Monday. So, in truth, Davis Cup “weeks” right now are less than a full 7 days, though subject to individual choices. The WCTF’s playing schedule requires 7 days of competition plus early days for practice and acclimatization, all in a month that’s already jam-packed. Some serious juggling of the ATP’s current tournament calendar will be required.
(8) At the World Tour Finals, with its similar format of round robin play that feeds a knockout round, criticism has already been leveled at a competitor’s chance to take a strategic loss, on purpose, to give them a better position in the knockout round. Does tennis want to create yet another scenario that calls into question how hard fought a contest really is?
a) In a 3 team round robin group, each team could finish with 1 win and 1 loss; how to determine who’s won?
b) If there are round robin groups whose losers have similar outcomes, how will the ITF determine who have the two 2nd best team records?
Will we have to count sets won, games, points? It may happen that teams have the same numbers…then what you do, flip a coin?
The spirit of the Davis Cup will be forever gone.
– Amelie Mauresmo
(10) Two of the 18 WCTF teams will be selected? What does that mean? How will they be selected? On the basis of team charm? Written essays? Swimsuit competition?
What happened to the idea of sport being a meritocracy?
All I can say is, “sheesh.”
My thanks to Ubaldo Scanagatta for pointing out a number of the match scheduling and won/lost calculation problems in the WCTF proposal. Also to Graham P for the linguistic consultation.
Novak Djokovic’s Moment Too Big For Tsitsipas
Perhaps, it was too much for Stefanos Tsitsipas to think about achieving in one day. That’s beating Novak Djokovic and winning his own initial Grand Slam title, not even to think about the bonus part of the package — becoming the No. 1 player in the world.
At any rate, it obviously wasn’t meant to be for Tsitsipas to derail Djokovic.
Djokovic accomplished it all in one neat package. Say hello to the player many tennis experts are now calling the greatest player ever. Of course, that’s a little premature due to the fact Rafa Nadal was all alone with 22 Grand Slam titles before Djokovic matched the total on Sunday by winning the Australian Open’s men’s singles title.
FORGET THE GOAT TALK
Then, there’s the great Roger Federer, in reality, possibly the greatest player who ever lived.
So, forget GOAT. It doesn’t matter, whether Nadal or Djokovic wins another Grand Slam title.
Poor Federer. He’s probably home with his children laughing about all of this.
And Rod Laver? Of course, Laver was on hand to watch Djokovic’s superhuman effort.
Back to reality. The moment.
Djokovic lived there Sunday night.
THE MOMENT WAS TOO MUCH FOR TSITSIPAS
Tsitsipas wasn’t ready for the challenge. Djokovic certainly was.
It’s as simple as that.
Novak played great. Tsitsipas didn’t give himself a chance to win.
Djokovic stayed in the moment. Tsitsipas allowed the situation to take over his game and apparently his mind.
Tsitsipas must have been back home in Greece where he would be crowned if he could be No. 1 in the world and win a Grand Slam.
NEAR-PERFECT NOVAK A LEGEND
Tsitsipas had his chances, even though he was down 4-1 in the first set before you could blink an eye.
He actually was two points from winning the second set in regulation, then quickly fell behind, 4-1, in the tiebreaker.
Tsitsipas took the third set to another tiebreaker, but lost the first five points and then lost the match, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5).
He never seemed to be keyed into the match, repeatedly miss-hitting key shots, even to open courts.
Meanwhile, Djokovic was near-perfect. He surely is a great one, a legend.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
Novak Djokovic Saves The Day In This Australian Open
It’s a good thing the Aussies allowed Novak Djokovic to stay in Melbourne this year.
Otherwise, the young crowd of players might have taken over completely in this Australian Open. After all, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Daniil Medvedev and Iga Swiatek among others didn’t stick around very long.
Novak is saving the day Down Under for the great ones.
This is an Australian Open unlike any in recent years. It’s almost like the Australian Open, with its usual midnight to early-morning Eastern Time matches has taken a step backward in world tennis.
American fans apparently no longer can watch those great matches that start at 3 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. ET, except on ESPN+.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
This Australian Open appears to be kind of lost in the shuffle this January, virtually taking away its major status.
In the absence of those early-morning battles, I guess it’s okay that most of the top men and women other than Novak, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Tommy Paul, Elena Rybakina and Jessie Pegula have sang their Aussie songs and headed elsewhere, except maybe for doubles.
Don’t overlook the tall Russian Rybakina on the women’s side. She’s two wins away from her second Grand Slam title, having upended the top-ranked Swiatek in the round of 16 and then taking care of former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals.
ALMOST LIKE A COLLEGE EVENT
Ben Shelton and J.J. Wolf are certainly outstanding American college level talents that came racing out of the winter red-hot.
But like MacKenzie McDonald, who thrashed an unprepared Nadal with a college-like all-power game only to falter the next round against a journeyman player like Yoshihito Nishioka, it’s doubtful that either Shelton or Wolf can stand the test of the only great one left — Djokovic.
In the long run, Shelton especially and Wolf likely will be stars. But these newcomers aren’t likely to hit the tour with the greatness that Carlos Alcaraz displayed when he was healthy during the last half of 2022.
WATCH FOR THE OTHER STARS AFTER AUSTRALIA
Other stars from last year such as Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie, Casper Ruud, Matteo Berrettini, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Felix Auger-Aliassime will make their own noise once the tour hits Europe and America.
As far as Americans other than Paul, I like the looks of young Jenson Brooksby, who upended the second-ranked Ruud in the second round. The 22-year-old Brooksby looks like a future star, that is if he gets in better physical condition.
Thus, Novak appears to be an almost certainty to sweep to his 22nd major title in an event that has been his own private playground for much of his career. That shouldn’t change on Sunday in the Australian Open final.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
A Dream Week For Holger Rune In Paris
Across the springtime of 2022 and culminating at the end of summer, a 19-year-old Spaniard named Carlos Alcaraz made history of the highest order in his profession.
Alcaraz was astonishing during that span, establishing himself as the first teenager in the men’s game since Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2005 to capture a major when he took the U.S. Open title. This electrifying performer now resides at No.1 in the world and will probably conclude the year at the top despite an abdominal injury preventing him from competing at the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin.
To be sure, Alcaraz has been the sport’s “Man of the Year” in so many ways. And yet, a fellow teenager has now joined the Spaniard in the top ten, and that surely is no mean feat.
Denmark’s Holger Rune celebrated the most stupendously successful week of his career by improbably toppling the six-time champion Novak Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters crown. Rune upended the game’s greatest front runner with a final round triumph he will surely remember for the rest of his life. Somehow, despite being in one precarious position after another—and finding himself dangerously low on oxygen at the end— Rune fended off a tennis icon who had swept 13 matches in a row over the autumn. Rune upended an unwavering yet apprehensive Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to garner his first Masters 1000 title. The grit and gumption he displayed on this auspicious occasion was ample evidence that he authentically has a champion’s mentality, a wealth of talent and a reservoir of courage that must be deeply admired.
It was a fascinating contest from beginning to end. Djokovic was unstoppable in the first set, breaking Rune in the fourth game when the precocious Dane served two double faults which seemed largely caused by overzealousness. Djokovic won 21 of 26 points on serve, nursed the one break he got very professionally, and outmaneuvered Rune time and again from the backcourt. His controlled aggression was first rate. Serving for that opening set at 5-3, Djokovic closed it out at love.
He then reached 0-40 on the Rune serve in the opening game of the second set, but squandered that opportunity flagrantly with an errant backhand passing shot, a netted forehand second serve return and a cautious overhead that eventually cost him the point. Rune held on sedulously, and soon moved to 3-0. That opening game was critical, changing the complexion of the set and allowing Rune to believe he was in with a chance.
Rune held serve the rest of the way to make it one set all. But, once more, Djokovic took command. He broke the Dane for a 3-1 third set lead when Rune went for broke on a big second serve down the T and double faulted. Djokovic sought to cement his advantage in the fifth game, opening up a 30-0 lead and later advancing to 40-30. He stood one point away from a 4-1 lead which might have proved insurmountable, but Rune made the Serbian pay for a backhand approach lacking sting and direction, passing Djokovic cleanly down the line off the backhand.
Rune managed crucially to break back, closing the gap to 3-2 and denying Djokovic a hold he should have had. Djokovic was visited at the changeover by the trainer, who attended to a left quad issue that was burdening the Serbian. But thereafter Djokovic seemed physically fine and appeared to be wearing Rune down. Leading 4-3, Djokovic pressed hard for a break, but again Rune obstinately stood his ground and came up with the goods in the clutch.
There were two deuces in that eighth game, but the Dane refused to allow Djokovic to reach break point. On both deuce points, the 19-year-old unleashed dazzling backhand winners down the line before holding on gamely. The set went to 5-5, and Rune’s opportunism was again showcased. Djokovic was ahead 30-0 but Rune collected four points in a row to seal the break, taking the last two on unprovoked mistakes from Djokovic.
And so Rune served for the match in the twelfth game of the third set with a 6-5 lead. His lungs were almost empty as Djokovic probed time and again to climb into a tie-break. It was hard to imagine if Djokovic managed to break back that Rune would be able to stay with him in that playoff. He was exhausted from the mental, emotional and physical strain of the hard fought third set.
Six times in that last game Djokovic stood at break point, but he could not convert. Rune’s temerity when it counted was almost breathtaking. He erased the first break point by lacing a forehand down the line for a winner, and then benefitted from a shocking Djokovic netted running forehand on the second. Then Djokovic had complete control on his third break point, only to send a backhand drop shot into the net.
Rune remained unrelenting, saving the fourth break point with an overhead winner, and erasing the fifth when Djokovic pulled a backhand pass wide with a clear opening. Rune reached match point for the first time but his explosive second serve landed long for a double fault. Djokovic advanced to break point for the sixth and last time, only to be stymied by a service winner from the Dane. Soon Rune was at match point for the second time, and he closed out the account stylishly with a forehand pass at the feet of Djokovic, who was coaxed into a netted half volley. For the first time ever in 31 Masters 1000 tournament finals, Djokovic had lost after securing the opening set. Walking on court with Rune in Paris, Djokovic’s career record overall after winning the first set was 891-38 (just shy of 96%), which is a higher success rate than any other male player in the Open Era.
Through nearly the entire last game of the encounter, Rune knew full well he had to finish it off there. Djokovic was well aware that his opponent was physically spent. Both players understood that the match was totally on the line; Djokovic would almost surely have prevailed in the tie-break had they gone there. For Djokovic, the loss was disappointing but not necessarily devastating. He put himself in a position to win twice, but did not realize his goal.
Yet he recognized that perhaps the match he played in the penultimate round against Stefanos Tsitsipas had taken a toll on him mentally. He had crushed Tsitsipas in the first set. From 2-2 in the first set he won five games in a row and then had a 0-30 lead on the Greek competitor’s serve early in the second set. Tsitsipas escaped and stretched Djokovic to his limits before the Serbian came through from a mini-break down at 3-4 in the third set tie-break to win four points in a row. Djokovic was victorious 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (4) but that victory required an inordinate amount of emotional energy.
An exuberant Rune was ready to pounce if given the opportunity. He did just that.
In fact, Rune set a Masters 1000 tournament record with five wins over players ranked in the top ten. His Paris indoor journey started when he fought back valiantly to defeat Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), saving three match points in the process (two in the second set, one in the third). After that escape, Rune stopped Hubert Hurkacz 7-5, 6-1, Andrey Rublev 6-4, 7-5, Alcaraz 6-3, 6-6 retired, Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 6-2 and then Djokovic.
Rune’s dynamic rise into the top ten has not happened by accident. He has won 19 of his last 21 matches, appearing in four consecutive ATP Tour finals during that remarkable span. He was beaten in the title round contest at Sofia by Marc-Andrea Huesler, won Stockholm over Tsitsipas, lost to Auger-Aliassime in the Basel final and now is the Rolex Paris Masters champion. Auger-Aliassime had won three straight titles before Rune stopped him in Paris. Djokovic had not lost since Auger-Aliassime defeated him at the Laver Cup. Rune refused to be intimidated by the size of their reputations and the strength of their recent records.
Rune wisely decided to skip the Next Gen ATP Finals this week in Milan. He will fittingly be the first alternate for the Nitto ATP Finals coming up in Turin starting on November 13. I have no doubt he will be ranked among the top five in the world by this time next year, and perhaps even reside among the top three. What impressed me the most in his match with Djokovic was his adaptability. Although Djokovic often set the tempo in that duel, Rune’s tactical skills were outstanding. At times he looped forehands and sent soft and low sliced backhands over the net to prevent Djokovic from feeding off of his pace. In other instances, Rune hit out freely and knocked the cover off the ball. He constantly shifted his strategy and Djokovic could not easily anticipate what was coming next. Rune employed the backhand down the line drop shot skillfully as another tool to keep Djokovic off guard.
No one in the game opens up the court better than Rune to set up forehand winners produced with a shade of sidespin that fade elusively away from his adversaries. Djokovic was the only player all week in Paris to comfortably return Rune’s serve, but on the big points Rune had an uncanny knack for finding the corners and landing big first serves. He saved ten of twelve break points against Djokovic. Moreover, he converted all three of his break points against a renowned opponent. Djokovic broke him twice but Rune would have lost his serve three more times if he had not performed mightily when his plight looked bleak.
What was most demonstrable at the Rolex Paris Masters was Rune’s propensity to play with immense poise under pressure. Not only did he survive that skirmish with the three time major champion Wawrinka in the opening round, but he somehow overcame Djokovic despite winning five fewer points across the three sets (97 to 92). Rune played the biggest points better than one of the most formidable match players of all time. He is a highly charged young player who has rubbed some players the wrong way with his high intensity bouts of abrasiveness on the court, but his comportment in Paris was very impressive and he did not put a foot out of line during his appointment with Djokovic. He handled the occasion awfully well under the circumstances.
In the weeks and months ahead, Rune will become a target of lesser ranked players looking to enlarge their reputations by virtue of striking down more accomplished adversaries. He will feel a different kind of pressure when he moves through the 2023 season in search of the premier prizes. But this is an enormously ambitious individual who is reminiscent of Alcaraz in terms of his outlook, sense of self, and mentality. They may well develop a stirring rivalry over the next five to ten years that will captivate galleries all over the world. Throw Auger-Aliassime into the mix with Alcaraz and Rune as well.
Tennis will be in exceedingly good shape in the years ahead. Djokovic remains in the forefront of the sport and he is a very young 35. The 36-year-old Nadal is not yet done by any means. But the younger generation is upon us, and it is apparent that Holger Rune is going to take his place among the game’s most illustrious players with increasing force, persuasion and urgency.
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