Next year will see the Davis Cup enter into a new era following a radical overhaul that has split opinion in the world of tennis.
For the first time in history, the men’s team tournament will take place during two stages of the year. In February will be a series of qualifying rounds where home and away ties will take place. The winners will then travel to Madrid to play in a week-long tournament held at the Caja Magica in November. A 18-team event that features 12 qualified teams, the four semi-finalists from the previous year and two wild cards. A controversial move that has angered some countries due to loss of the ability to host the finals on home soil.
It isn’t just the team that has their concerns, it is also their fans. The Stirling University Barmy Army (SUBA) has established themselves as one of the most loyal and prestigious fan groups of British tennis. Founded in 2009 by Jamie MacDonald, former president of Sterling University, more than 120 people have attended Britain’s Davis Cup ties on behalf of the SUBA. Overall, they have attended 19 ties, including the last 12.
“The loss of regular home and away ties which therefore reduces the amount of tennis played in the UK restricting the opportunities for fans to go and watch the team.” McDonald told Ubitennis about the concerns they have about the new Davis Cup format.
The SUBA has already stated their public opposition to the new-look event. Earlier this year, 88.9% of members voted against the reforms. Expressing concerns about the negative impact it will have on costs and travelling for British fans.
The driving force behind the Davis Cup changes are investment group Kosmos. A company that was founded by Barcelona F.C. footballer Gerard Pique. They have pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years in a move they claim will see national tennis associations recieve more money. Kosmos’ plans came to life in August after being approved by a vote at the International Tennis Federation’s AGM meeting.
“We welcome new funding and new people to the sport. It is up to the sport’s governing bodies to regulate this and ensure that any changes to the sport are made in the best interests of tennis.” Said McDonald.
The ‘Change It Back’ Campaign
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After being awarded a wildcard into next year’s final, Great Britain will not play a Davis Cup tie on home soil until 2020 at the earliest. Leaving the SUBA in an uncertain position on if they will be able to cheer of their team from the sidelines next year. The group last missed a tie in 2014, when Britain took on America in San Diego.
“Less people will get to see live tennis which is a huge problem for the sport.” McDonald commented about the Davis Cup Finals.
“We would like to go to the finals but this depends on being able to access tickets and the cost of flights and accommodation not proving prohibitive.
Andrew McCrea is a member of the SUBA. Like McDonald, he is also concerned about the negative impact the new Davis Cup could have for fans of the sport. He is also a supporter of the #ChangItBack campaign on Twitter. Which urges the Davis Cup to revert back to their original format.
“The people who are involved in this are just a group of Great Britain Davis Cup fans (made up of people from a variety of supporters groups such as the Murraynators, We Are Tennis Fan Academy, British Association of Tennis Supporters etc) who initially just got in contact with one another via social media and brainstormed ideas as to what the fans could do to try and make their voices heard, and I’m actually the only person involved here who is in the Barmy Army.” McCrea explained.
“A few of us came up with the idea of tweeting the #ChangeItBack hashtag on posts relating to the Davis Cup, and these people have over the last month or so has been trying to contact other people who they think may be interested in getting involved.”
— Andrew McCrea (@AndrewMcCrea3) 28 October 2018
McCrea believes the new format will result in certain areas of the UK missing out on chances to engage in the sport. The Scottish city of Glasgow has hosted four ties since 2015, including their year’s clash between Britain and Uzbekistan. In September 3000 school children from schools across Glasgow was invited to watch the British team practice.
“It’s special for the players as well as they don’t get the chance to play professionally in their home country very often.” He said.
“The GB team also did a hugely successful Tennis for Kids Day a couple of days before the Uzbekistan tie last month – which is a brilliant way to try and get children inspired to take up tennis. With the new format they won’t be able to do this anymore.”
From a fan perspective, some fear that due to the finals being extended to a week it will put people off travelling to the event. At present, the Davis cup finals are contested between two teams and take place between Friday-Sunday. Kosmos has previously said that they have an attendance target of 200,000 for the 2019 finals.
“I don’t think the idea of having a one week finals event is a good idea at all from a fan perspective in terms of the arrangements they need to make in order to attend it, because the fans will need to provisionally book the full week off work, etc. (plus a day or two both sides of the week for travel) and also accommodation for the full week.”
The ATP Threat
Amid the Davis Cup fallout, the ATP is quietly working on the rebirth of their team event. From 2020, the World Team Cup will be hosted in Australia at the start of each year. Besides prize money, ranking points will also be up for grabs. Something the Davis Cup is unable to offer. Should there be no adjustment to the calendar, both events will occur within two months (at the end of one season and at the beginning of the next). Meaning that some players may have to prioritise one over the other.
“There is no reason why tennis cannot have more than one team event.” Said McDonald.
“Tennis needs variety and at the moment nearly all tournaments are the same format. We (SUBA) welcome ingenuity and new ideas.
“What we are concerned about are changes to a 118-year-old competition that has served so many fans so well.” He added.
Some are concerned that the World Team Cup could be the start of the end for the Davis Cup. Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have indicated that they will prioritise the ATP’s event. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev is the first player to confirm that he will skip the 2018 Davis Cup Finals due to its ‘crazy scheduling.’ Adding to the fiasco, the ITF and ATP are yet to find a common ground when it comes to their tournaments.
“If the new Davis Cup format does turn out to be a complete disaster, there may come a time that the ATP World Team Cup could completely take over as the main men’s national team event and could kill of the Davis Cup for good.” McCrea warns.
The 2019 Davis Cup finals will take place between November 18 to 24.
SUBA quick facts
- Founded in 2009
- First tie attended – GB vs Ukraine Euro-Africa Zone 1 tie in Glasgow (2009)
- First away tie attended – GB vs Italy (2014 World Group quarter-finals)
- Founder Jamie McDonald is the head of the group since
- Most members they ever had at one tie – 45 (GB vs Argentina in September 2016)
- Average number of members they have at each tie – between 20 and 40 people.
Is Covid-19 Just An Excuse To Axe The 2020 Davis Cup Finals?
The decision to cancel the team event five months before it was set to start may be more complex than what officials are letting on.
On Friday the International Tennis Federation issued a statement to confirm that their two premier tennis team events will not be taking place this year.
The Davis Cup and Fed Cup tournaments have been delayed until 2021 due to the global uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Davis Cup, it is only the 12th time in history a season has ended without a champion being decided since its birth in 1900 and the first since 1945. The teams that have qualified for the week-long finals this year will instead have to wait until November 2021 to battle it out for the title.
“This is a tough decision to have to make, but delivering an international team event on this scale while guaranteeing the health and safety of all involved ultimately poses too great a risk,” ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement. “It is a complex undertaking and we have made the decision now to provide certainty for players, national associations and fans.”
There are however some questions over why the ITF has made this announcement five months before the start of the tournament. Especially when both the ATP and WTA Tours are set to restart in August. Furthermore Madrid, where this year’s finals were scheduled to take place, will still host their premier combined event at the Caja Magica in September.
“It’s the inconsistencies that I find tedious. Two months before the Davis Cup was meant to be playing we are playing at the same venue in Madrid for the masters. In regards to the crowds there seemed to be a fair bit of social distancing at this event last year,” John Millman wrote on Twitter.
It appears that there could be a more substantial financial reason to postpone the Kosmos-backed event. Investment company Kosmos was founded by Gerard Pique and has pledged millions into the Davis Cup in a deal to help revamp it. French newspaper L’Equipe have quoted sources reporting that the event lost an astonishing 50 million euros in 2019, which was the first year where the new format took place. Furthermore, it has been reported that the decision to scrap November’s event will help save 18 million euros.
Furthermore, one senior figure at Tennis Canada has suggested that Pique had tried to do everything he could to prevent the tournament from taking place. Louis Borfiga, who serves as his country’s Vice President of High Performance, said he believes there has been no meetings with the federations prior to Friday’s announcement.
“While everyone is doing everything possible to try to replay, I have the impression that Piqué did everything to prevent the Davis Cup from taking place this year,” he said in a separate interview with L’Equipe.
“ They (Kosmos leaders) put forward health reasons, I hope they are the right ones. They are going to have the right role. There is nothing we can say about health.”
“When I read the official press release, I am surprised by one thing. It is Piqué who speaks first, and the president of the ITF (David Haggerty) after. That too is shocking.” He added.
Borfiga is not alone in this view. Back in March tennis player Nicola Mahut criticised Pique for not being more optimistic about holding the finals this year. The Spaniard had previously said he was ‘pessimistic’ about having the event without fans.
“The message he sent through his statements is: ” If Madrid is complicated and we cannot do it, well it will be cancelled and he will save some money.” Mahut commented.
According to Diario AS, the Madrid economy will lose in the region of 50 million euros due to the finals not being held. Furthermore, it is estimated that 600 jobs would have been created to support the running of the tournament from start to finish.
Gerard Pique’s Pessimistic Davis Cup Outlook Blasted By French Tennis Star
The football player has been urged to ‘put more energy’ in finding a solution for the event to take place in 2020.
Kosmos founder Gerard Pique has come under fire over his plans for the Davis Cup Finals later this year after recently casting doubt on the event taking place due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Pique, whose company helped finance the transformation of the 120-year-old team competition, recently admitted that he was doubtful that the event could go ahead if crowds weren’t allowed to attend. Last year was the first time the new format of the competition took place with 18 teams featuring in a week-long round-robin tournament which was won by host nation Spain.
“I’m a bit pessimistic, to have the Davis Cup with no fans is difficult,” Pique told Movistar.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. We are listening to what the sport’s ministry and the government are telling us about whether we’ll have the ability to have fans.”
All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended since March due to the Pandemic. Officials are hoping to be able to get the sport going again in August ahead of the US Open that is scheduled to take place. Although some have doubts about the chances of the Tour’s starting by then, including world No.43 John Millman.
Amid the ongoing uncertainty, French tennis star Nicolas Mahut has criticized Pique’s bleak outlook for this year’s Davis Cup finale. The 38-year-old has represented his country in 13 ties, including the 2018 final as well as the semifinals in two other years.
“We don’t have a lot of information. But as a player, you can just trust the official statements. And when I hear Pique, I’m extremely disappointed,” Mahut told L’Equipe.
Mahut has called on Pique to explore more options such as potentially relocating the event to another country if it would make it safer for the event to go ahead. Implying that he was his duty to do so after setting ‘to destroy the formula’ of the event. Critics of the revamp have accused Pique of ruining the traditional competition.
“I would like him to put as much energy into saving the Davis Cup that he has set up. That is to say, to find solutions for it to take place in Madrid or elsewhere, as he has set to destroy the formula that had been in place for over a hundred years,” he said,
“The message he sent through his statements, is: ” If Madrid is complicated and we cannot do it, well it cancels and I save some money. ” And it bothers me a lot compared to what has happened for more than a year. We don’t play with this competition. Maybe that suits it.”
Kosmos has signed a $3 billion 25-year deal with the ITF to acquire the rights for the Davis Cup Finals.
Davis Cup Finals In Doubt, Admits Gerard Pique
The Kosmos founder explains why he isn’t too optimistic about the team event going ahead later this year.
The chances of this year’s Davis Cup Finals taking place are still up in the air with one of the key figures involved in the competition openly saying that he is ‘pessimistic’ about its chances.
Football star Gerard Pique is one the driving forces behind the new format following a huge financial investment from his company Kosmos. Signing a 25-year deal with the International Tennis Federation worth in the region of $3 billion. Despite the significant investment, Pique admits that he has low hopes of the event taking place later this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All professional tennis tournaments have been halted since March.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, we try to be aware of what the government says regarding sports and to whether we can put spectators inside the Caja Magica,” Pique said during an interview with Movistar.
“I would say I am a bit pessimistic, because a Davis Cup without fans is difficult.
“I think that nobody at the moment has the certainty that we can put fans in or if it will have to be behind closed doors. As the days go by, I suppose we will have a little more clarity.”
Spain is currently in the process of relaxing some of their lockdown restrictions with tennis players being able to train at local facilities from next week. The country is following a four-stage plan with the hope that their premier La Liga football league will resume next month at some stage.
However, the issue for the Davis Cup is the limited number of fans that would be able to go to the tournament if it takes place. In more advanced stages of the plans, no more than 50 people can attend an indoor venue. Although the number could be increased by November, it will be a stark difference to 2019. Held at the Caja Magica, the total capacity of the premier court is 12,500 people.
Last year’s final saw Spain lift the title for the first time since 2011 after they defeated Canada in the final. The two teams are seeded third and sixth in this year’s draw.
The Davis Cup is scheduled to take place between November 23-29 in Madrid. The ATP, WTA and ITF will not restart their Tour’s until at least July 13th, however, there is speculation that the suspension will be extended in the coming weeks.
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