The upcoming Davis Cup final will be an historic event in the competition’s history for a reason that has divided that sport in recent months.
Reigning champions France will take on Croatia in Lille at the Stade Pierre-Mauro. Captained by Yannick Noah, France are bidding to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1932 during the era of the ‘four musketeers.’ A quartet of players from the country who won 20 singles and 23 doubles grand slam titles during the 1920s and 1930s. In contrast, Croatia is bidding to win the event for only the second time and the first since 2005.
Regardless of the outcome, both countries will be embedded in Davis Cup history with 2018 being the final year the current format takes place. Next year will see the event transformed into a weeklong final that will feature 18 teams in one location. Removing the 118-year tradition of home and away finals. The plan has come to life with the help of a $3 billion investment from Kosmos Tennis with the International Tennis Federation claiming that national associations will receive more money under the new format. Although that promise has failed to silence its critics.
“I will not be competing in the next Davis Cup, that’s for sure. I do not like it at all, it’s a total draw, I will not play in Madrid in November 2019.” Lucas Pouille told local radio earlier this week, according to welovetennis.fr.
Few will deny that the Davis Cup has been in need of a change for a long time, but many believe this is too radical. On the eve on the this year’s final, Noah launched a fresh attack on the governing bodies of tennis. Accusing them of prioritising money over everything else.
“This event was the event of the people, where you could come to Lille, where they never had tennis.” Noah said during an interview with HRT Sport. “This is an opportunity to bring tennis to places where they don’t have the opportunity and this (the Davis Cup) was the only event that did that.”
“The people who decided for me (to change the format), decided in their high offices, making more money, but it is not the same event. I really hope they have the decency to not call this Davis Cup.“
— HRT Sport (@HRTsport) November 22, 2018
Kosmos, which was founded by footballer Gerard Pique, has repeatedly hit back at criticism of their new event. Critics say that it is the beginning of the end of the competition with the resurrection of the World Team Cup posing a major threat. An ATP team event that will take place at the start of each year in Australia from 2020. Unlike the Davis Cup, the ATP can offer ranking points alongside its prize pool of $15 million.
There are also unanswered questions about if the big players of the sport will feature in November’s final. Alexander Zverev has ruled himself out of competing due to its ‘crazy scheduling,’ but has said he will place in the February ties. Meanwhile Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer remain 50/50 about their future involvement.
“I think it’s not sustainable. It will happen that we will have two average events. So I think creating one event is an ideal scenario and I think outcome for everyone,” Djokovic commented about the two team competitions.
“From what I’ve heard from conversations with people from all of the sides, different sides in this sport, they all want to have one event because it’s over-saturated with different cups, different events.
“We have to try to focus on quality rather than quantity.”
Fortunately the Davis Cup has a lifeline thanks to the Olympic qualification criteria. Players have to play a certain amount of ties in the event in order to be considered for selection to play at the Olympic Games, which will next take place in 2020.
It is unknown as to what will happen in the future. Will the Davis Cup survive? Will it merge with the ATP? It is these uncertainties that continue to mar the competition.
The Davis Cup isn’t dead, but its survival isn’t looking too promising at the moment. Which is why the showdown between France and Croatia this weekend will be special.
Former Tennis Star Robin Soderling Appointed Davis Cup Captain
The former world No.4 is hoping to make waves in the team competition.
Robin Sodering has taken on a new role in the world of tennis after being appointed the captain of the Swedish Davis Cup team on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old takes over from Johan Hedsberg, who has held the role since January 2017. Soderling is a former world No.4 player and the last player from his country to contest a grand slam final at the 2010 French Open. After winning 10 ATP titles, his career came to an abrupt end after he failed to recover from a long-term illness. Soderling was hit by mononucleosis in 2011, a viral illness also known as glandular fever. He spent four years away from the tour before officially retiring in 2015.
“Being able to lead the best players in the country is an honour, so it was a pretty easy decision.” He told tennis.se.
“I have not thought about this, but when the question came, I immediately felt that I wanted to do this. I want it to go well for Swedish tennis.”
Sweden has won the Davis Cup seven times with their most recent triumph occurring back in 1998. They are currently playing in Group I of the Europe/Africa zone. This season the team managed to reach the World Group playoffs, but suffered a 4-0 defeat to Colombia. Sweden last played in the top tier of the competition back in 2012.
Soderling had been working with Elias Ymer, who is currently ranked 176th in the world. He is the brother of world No.76 Mikael Ymer, who is Sweden’s top men’s player. The reason for the end of their collaboration was because Soderling wanted to spend more time with his family. He is married with two children under the age of 10.
“I worked with Elias Ymer for a year and thought it was fun and educational. It was as close as you can get to your own career when playing yourself.” He said.
“But it became too much for me with over 30 trips a year. It didn’t work with my family situation. Maybe I listened too much to “Fidde” (Fredrik Rosengren) who said he had not seen his children in 25 years. I wasn’t prepared for that. I received questions after the assignment with Elias but declined no.’
“This assignment as the Davis Cup captain does not mean as many trips and given that I like tennis overall and above all Swedish tennis, the choice was easy.”
Soderling’s first test will be in March when his country takes on Chile on home soil. A team who has two top 100 players in singles. The winner will be moved into the 18-team Davis Cup finals, which was launched for the first time this year.
“Sweden has certainly not been favourites in all those matches. They have done really well.” He stated.
“If you look at the (Swedish) team, we have a good team with Mikael and Elias Ymer even though we are not super wide overall compared to many other countries that have several players in the top 100. But we are competitive and actually play for a place in Madrid against the world best team.”
During his playing career, Soderling played in 10 Davis Cup ties and won 14 out of 18 matches.
The ITF Reacts With Caution To Russian Doping Ban
Ubitennis contacted a member of the governing body following the decision to suspend the nation from all major sporting events.
The International Tennis Federation has said it will wait until an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from Russia is made before pondering any potential implications it may have on tennis.
On Monday the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) slammed the country with a four-year ban from hosting or attending ‘major sporting events.’ Including the 2020 Olympics and 2022 World Cup. Russia was issued with the penalty for continuous breaches of anti-doping rules. The most recent being evidence that they deliberately tampered with laboratory data by planting fake evidence to cover up failed drugs tests.
The decision to ban Russia was unanimously made, according to a spokesman from WADA. In 2015 an extensive report revealed a state-sponsored doping programme on a mass scale. Resulting in Russia being suspended from international athletics events, including the 2016 Olympics, but they were still allowed to compete as neutral athletes.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of Rusada’s reinstatement conditions demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered.” WADA chief Sir Craig Reedie said.
“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”
Following the announcement, Ubitennis contacted the ITF to establish their stance on the decision. The governing body is recognised by WADA. Heather Bowler, who is the ITF’s executive director of communications, points out that throughout the investigation, none of the doping violations have been linked to tennis.
“According to the WADA decision issued earlier today (Monday), Russian athletes will only be eligible to compete in major competitions subject to satisfying certain conditions listed by the WADA Compliance Review Committee.“ Bowler said in a statement.
“The ITF is not currently aware of any Russian tennis player having been mentioned in incriminating circumstances in the McLaren Report (2016) nor has any evidence been provided to the ITF at this time in relation to the manipulation, alteration or deletion of anti-doping data in the Moscow anti-doping laboratory’s database.” She added.
Unless there is a successful appeal made, Russian tennis players will only be allowed to participate in the upcoming Olympics under a neutral status. Meaning they are not allowed to fly their own flag. Furthermore if somebody such as Daniil Medvedev wins a gold medal, the Russian national anthem will not be played during the medal ceremony.
Bowler states that all Russian players have been tested under the sport’s own anti-doping controls and not just that of the controversial RUSDA. Indicating that it is unlikely that they will be banned from ITF events such as the Davis Cup unless a new significant discovery arises. The WADA’s definition of a ‘major sporting event’ is confusing at best. They are still allowed to host football matches during the 2020 European Championships because Uefa isn’t classed as a ‘major event organisation.’
“Tennis has a zero tolerance anti-doping policy. All players competing at Grand Slams and ITF, WTA and ATP sanctioned events are subject to the WADA-compliant Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP); a comprehensive programme which includes athlete biological passports, in-competition and out-of-competition testing and the year-round whereabouts programme. Russian players will have been tested under the TADP, outside of Russia.” Bowler outlines.
“WADA’s decision is subject to appeal by RUSADA. For that reason, we will not comment further until that process has reached its final conclusion and we have had the opportunity to review its outcome.”
Kafelnikov – ‘There was a doping system’
Following the verdict, former world No.1 and 2000 Olympic champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov spoke out. The 45-year-old is now the deputy head of the Russian Tennis Federation. Talking with national media, he blamed those directly involved in the doping programme for not admitting their guilt. Saying that it has resulted in athletes getting unfairly punished. Whilst some officials have doubted the allegation of a state doping system, Kafelnikov has stated the opposite.
“There was a doping system in Russia, I have no doubt about it. Someone must be punished for this.” sport-express.ru quoted him as saying.
“Russian sports could have a reputation if those people, a group of people who started all this, just went out and said: “Yes, I’ve messed up, please forgive me.” I am sure that then in this case there could be some relief for Russian athletes. But no one wants to take responsibility for this. As a result, everything is shifted to poor athletes.”
As for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kafelnikov has urged his fellow compatriot to still attend the event under a neutral flag if the appeal fails. Saying the event is a priority for ‘every self-respecting athlete.’ During his career, he only participated in the four-year sporting event once.
“If I faced such a dilemma: to go to the Olympics under a neutral flag or to refuse to play for the national team, I would go under a neutral flag,” said Kafelnikov.
“For any self-respecting athlete, the Olympic Games are a priority.”
As of this week, there are 11 Russian tennis players in the top 100. Three on the men’s tour and eight of the women.
Former Grand Slam Champion Hits Out At ‘Abysmal’ Davis Cup
Australia’s most successful doubles player in Davis Cup history isn’t happy about the changes made to team event.
Former world No.1 Doubles player Todd Woodbridge has taken a fresh swipe at the revamped Davis Cup and their allocation of wild cards for the 2020 finals.
The 48-year-old has blasted the format of the historic team event following major changes that was made this year. Last month was the first time the finals took place over a week with 18 teams participating in one location in Madrid. At the event there was a few blips with the scheduling being at times problematic. Highlighted by the tie between the USA and Italy that went on until 4am.
Despite the issues, there were also positives to be taken away from the event, which was won by Spain. However, Woodbridge remains a critic. The Australian is his country’s most successful doubles player in the history of the Davis Cup with 25 wins under his belt. Overall, he played in 32 ties over a 14-year period (1991-2005).
“The tennis itself has been brilliant, the organisation has been abysmal,” Woodbridge said on Australian programme Sports Sunday.
“Everything from IT issues, to playing matches that finish at 4am, and then today the ITF go, ‘Well we’re going to put in more wild cards.”
It is the wild cards decision that has irritated the 16-time grand slam champion the most. Recently it was announced that Serbia and France has been handed passes into the finals next November. Meaning that will not have to go through the play-off ties. Woodbridge has suggested the move was deliberately made in order to persuade Novak Djokovic to play in the event again.
“They’ve given wild cards this week, for 12 months’ time. You’ve got to ask the question, how can you do that? It looks like they’re guaranteeing Novak Djokovic a spot for next year … ‘We want you back so we’re going to guarantee you can be there, you don’t have to play the qualifying match earlier in the year,” he said.
“And then France have also been put in, so you’ve got to ask the question, the President of the ITF is also French and I’m sure he’s had a big influence in that discussion. They’ve got so many things to fix if it’s going to be a success next year.
“The biggest issue was crowd. We (Australia) played our first match with about 400 people watching, and that’s a great disappointment.”
Gerard Pique if the founder of Kosmos, whose investment has enabled the transformation of the Davis cup. In a recent interview with Spanish media, he said the allocation of a wild card to France was done so the country ‘feel part of the competition because the format will continue like this.’
“We’re delighted with how everything went and above all with the final, which Spain won,” he told Onda Cero about the 2019 Davis Cup finals. “There are things which need to be improved, like the times of the games, which has an easy solution in the form of adding another court and changing the times a little bit.”
The 2020 Davis Cup qualifying rounds will get underway in March.
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