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.
EXCLUSIVE Interview With US Davis Cup Captain Mardy Fish: “If Davis Cup Fails, We All Fail”
Mardy Fish takes the reins of the US Davis Cup team and feels very strongly about the new format for the competition: “If you love Davis Cup you have to support it, even with this format”
After Jim Courier’s resignation from the role of US Davis Cup Captain last September after the defeat in the 2018 semifinal against Croatia, the USTA decided to take their time and make some changes to the duties required by the role. Following Courier’s suggestion that “the new captain should be someone closer in age to the players”, the United States Tennis Association decided to trust former world no.7 Mardy Fish with this important responsibility, also making him a key figure in the Player Development Program, expanding the role of captain into a year-round presence at tournaments around the world to provide a bigger support to players.
While we were covering the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Mardy found the time to talk to Ubitennis over the phone from his house in California and provided some insight into this new adventure for him.
What can you tell us about your first few months in your new role?
It’s been a fun few months, adjusting from the role of peer to the other players to that of captain. I have found a lot of respect towards me from the other players and this is obviously a great thing. I have always been a huge fan of Davis Cup, I have always said yes whenever I had the opportunity to play it, and it’s an honor to be in this role.
You retired a few years ago from professional tennis: how do you feel about getting back on the road now that your life is structured in a different way?
My life at home has been quite established, with my wife and my two kids, but I have been doing a bit of personal traveling for some exhibitions and for golfing. This role will not require a lot of traveling, I will just do what I need to create some camaraderie in the team: I have spent a few days in Indian Wells, from Tuesday to Saturday, I will be a few days in Miami, then I won’t be around much for the European season and I will travel again to tournaments in the summer. I just need the players to know that they have my support and the support of the USTA if it’s needed.
What do you think about the new formula for the Davis Cup?
I think it’s too early to tell right now, we will find out how it goes. On paper the formula sounds awesome, the time was right for a change, although I’m not sure if it was necessary to make it as drastic as this. I know there are some people that feel very strongly against this new formula, but this means that people are passionate about Davis Cup, they really care about it.
The date in the calendar for the Finals is quite tough though. But at the end of the day, if it’s Davis Cup the majority of players will find a way to participate and I’m convinced we will get an excellent field.
As far as the US Team is concerned, I don’t foresee any availability issue from our players, especially the younger ones: they are very excited about playing for the USA, the National Team is in a lot of conversations among our players. I can’s speak for other countries, I know some of them have pledged not to play with the new format, but what we need to remember is that we are all responsible for Davis Cup: if Davis Cup fails, we all fail, we are all together on the same boat. For example, the Australian players are all very passionate about Davis Cup, they love it, and that is fantastic. But if they don’t support it, it’s not going to work.
With the new formula, a team getting to the final will need to play six ties in seven days: how important do you think it will be to have a ‘long bench’?
I think it will be important to bring players who play only singles and other players who play only doubles. I believe that teams that only have one or two players, as it could be for Russia, and relying on them to play both singles and doubles could get into a bit of a situation should they get to the business end of the competition, because their players may get there quite tired. We are lucky in that sense because we can have someone like Jack Sock who could play doubles leaving the singles guys free to worry about the singles.
Tennis politics have recently made the headlines with Chris Kermode not being renewed as the ATP CEO. What is your take on this?
I have spoken to some of the guys who are in the Players’ Council and once again I need to stress that they do what they do because they act with passion. They are passionate about tennis, they act out of love for the game even if their ranking is not high. I know Kermode personally from when he was the Tournament Directors at the Queen’s Tournament and everything was perfect for me; I don’t have direct experience with him at the helm of the ATP, I had already retired when he took the reins of the organization.
A few weeks ago the ITF decided the composition of the Round Robin phase of the Davis Cup Final and the US team will be in the same group as Italy and Canada. Can you tell us about these teams?
Well, Canada has the right mix of experience and youth: Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime are going to be there for a long time, and Milos [Raonic] will be able to give them all the support they need. Similarly, Italy has an established core of players such as Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi that will be supplemented by Marco Cecchinato, whom I know him anyway because he is was my opponent in my last match ever at the US Open.
I am very confident about our chances in this group: we have three top 60 players who are still 21 years old or younger, who are Tiafoe, Fritz and Opelka. Tiafoe has just reached the Quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and that’s not a result that you can improvise, you need to beat good players to get there. They will be the core of our team for the years to come, and they will be helped by more established veterans like John [Isner] or Sam [Querrey].
BNP Paribas Ends Their 17 Year Sponsorship With Davis Cup
BNP Paribas will no longer sponsor the Davis Cup after 17 years.
BNP Paribas have ended their 17 year title sponsorship with the Davis Cup as they rebrand to the world cup of tennis.
The move was announced in a press release as BNP Paribas look to focus on sponsoring the Fed Cup as well as the junior and wheelchair events.
It is clear that the move has been finalised due to the Davis Cup’s new 18 team format which will be tested in November this year in Madrid.
Although there has been criticism of the new event this is the first time a sponsorship has been dropped from the Davis Cup and the banking company’s intent.
Head of communications, Bertrand Cizeau, explained his decision, “We decided with the ITF to conclude the ‘Davis Cup by BNP Paribas’ partnership as the competition format evolves,” Cizeau explained.
“During 17 years, we have been happy alongside fans, players and local audiences, all around the world, and to have fuelled their passion during unforgettable matches.”
The move is certainly stunning to the ITF but their president David Haggerty did thank BNP Paribas for their contribution, “BNP Paribas has made a vast contribution to the success of the Davis Cup as a title sponsor over the past 17 years,” Haggerty said.
“We are proud of the great work we have achieved together for Davis Cup, and we look forward to continuing our relationship across a number of properties from the grassroots to the top of the game.”
The dedicated partner will continue to work with the ITF with a variety of schemes and projects including developing the Junior and Wheelchair events.
However with talk of a 12 team Fed Cup event similar to the Davis Cup one, would BNP Paribas stop its partnership with the Fed Cup and how would that impact the ITF?
As for David Haggerty he will now aim to rebrand the competition into the ‘Davis Cup, World Cup Of Tennis,’ as many see this as a significant change in the history of the competition that has now gone on for 118 years.
Davis Cup Finals Tournament Director Asks For Patience Ahead Of November Edition
Davis Cup Finals tournament director Albert Costa is asking for patience as he believes the tournament will be an overwhelming success
Davis Cup Finals Tournament Director Albert Costa has asked fans for their patience ahead of November’s edition.
The new format will see 18 teams compete in Madrid in November for the Davis Cup trophy with many people criticising the reforms.
However tournament director Albert Costa has asked tennis fans for patience as he believes in time the Finals will be a success, “After all, it’s one of the great competitions in the world of sports, very attractive, unique and novel for everyone, and for the players it will be a very attractive format,” Costa explained in an interview with Radio Marca.
“I do not see that it will go wrong, people have many expectations, that the first year is complicated and there may be some doubt, but I think it will be a success, I have no doubt. It comes out as we hope we will have patience and we will organize the second edition in a better way, but we do not contemplate that it does not go well.”
The Spaniard is also looking ahead to the future and is in current discussion to make the Fed Cup a combined event with the Davis Cup in the future, “The Federation Cup is a two-year project, we will see if it is viable, but we have it in our heads,” Costa explained.
“We are still negotiating and talking with the ATP to do a joint event and then a larger one of men and women, it is a project but it is not a reality yet. There are opinions for everyone, the changes always generate doubts and we have to show that the competition is attractive to everyone.”
The Davis Cup Finals takes place on the 18th-24th of November with a weakened field expected as Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexander Zverev will all not participate in Madrid.
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