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.
ITF and Kosmos: “Our Davis Cup Is Good For Tennis”
Kosmos is ready to stuff the pockets of players and federations with a lot of fresh money, but the battle with ATP and Laver Cup could destroy the sport
With the ATP Cup officially poised to challenge Davis Cup as the leading team event in tennis, Gerard Piqué’s team at Kosmos, the investment fund now managing the 120-year-old competition, has decided to ramp up its efforts to promote their competition and ensure the success of their 25-year, 3-billion-dollar investment. During the first days of the Australian Open the ITF has invited a small group of journalists to a Melbourne hotel for an informal discussion about the new Davis Cup format with some of the top executives from Kosmos.
While ITF President David Haggerty was in Lausanne discussing with IOC President Thomas Bach how Olympic eligibility criteria would need to be modified in light of the new format for Davis Cup (we were told that seven formal letters have been sent from the ITF to the IOC in relation to this matter) for the 2020-2024 period (it has already been established that current criteria will remain in place to determine eligibility for Tokyo 2020), it was up to Kosmos Tennis CEO Javier Alonso, Chief Competition Officer Galo Blanco (former ATP player and coach) and ITF Senior Executive Director for Professional Tennis Kris Dent to entertain a dozen journalist for a working breakfast at the Hotel Pullman on the Park in Melbourne, just steps away from Rod Laver Arena.
Despite the façade of extreme confidence in their business model, both from a financial and from a tennis standpoint, it was impossible for them to deny the existence of several issues to be sorted out, starting from the position of the Davis Cup Finals in the calendar. “We believe there is a global scheduling issue in tennis – said Kris Dent – and we are more than willing to move our competition to the date that makes more sense for tennis in general, regardless of the specific interests of the individual stakeholders”. And while this statement sounds extremely accommodating at first, it has to be noted that at the moment the Davis Cup Finals have possibly the worst week in the calendar, and any change would likely be a change for the better for this competition. “During the ATP Finals week in London we made a proposal to the ATP, the WTA and the Grand Slam tournaments, and we are waiting for their answer. We have included in the conversation also the Laver Cup through their shareholders Tennis Australia and USTA”. In fact, the Laver Cup probably holds the best card in this entire poker game, since it is positioned in the week that would be ideal for the Davis Cup Finals: starting seven days after the end of the US Open and ending seven days before the Asian swing, the Laver Cup is now in a position to hold to ransom the entire tennis world while just being a non-sanctioned two-year-old competition.
Another problem faced by Kosmos is players’ willingness to make themselves available for a competition that, as it stands, it cuts into their already limited off-season, without having to use Olympic eligibility as a coercive tool, since it is now being challenged by the players directly at an IOC level. For this purpose, Kosmos hired Galo Blanco, former ATP pro and more recently coach to top players like Raonic, Khachanov and Thiem, whose main task is to answer all questions about the competition any player, coach or captain may have. “Some of them were reluctant to play in Madrid in November because they thought the surface would be clay. But it won’t be on clay: the surface will be the same as the one that is used at the O2 Arena for the ATP Finals. I’m here to reassure them about all the details of the competition”.
Kosmos expects droves of fans to travel to Madrid for a week and make a great atmosphere for the event. “Our dream – Blanco continues – is to have a packed stadium for the final, with half of the fans dressed in the colors of one team and the other half dressed in the colors of the other finalist”. It is true that the old Davis Cup format did not allow to know the teams competing in the final and the venue for the event until late September-beginning of October, and this was a potential obstacle to fans arranging the trip. Now teams and venue will be known as of mid-February. However, a Davis Cup Final has always been a 3-day affair, while with the new format fans will be expected to be at the venue for the entire week, and although Kosmos does not see this as a problem, fans (and their bank accounts) may think differently.
The new Davis Cup Finals format is certainly an improvement for players, even if some of them have been very candidly saying they will not play: “I remember that when I was a player it was very difficult to commit to playing Davis Cup because it could mean up to 7-8 weeks of your schedule occupied by the competition – says Blanco – It’s definitely too much. Now that commitment has been reduced by half and we believe it is now much more manageable”.
What Kosmos and ITF want to stress is the flow of fresh money this new Davis Cup format will bring into tennis: now players will play for a very large prize money at the Finals ($20 million a year) and tennis federations will receive substantial funding they will be able to invest in player development. “We have also plans including Fed Cup – adds Dent – that as of 2019 will see its prize money doubled with an increase of approximately 4 million dollars”.
The “war of team cups” is just getting started, the first round of the new Davis Cup by Kosmos is just a few weeks away but the crucial battle will be fought between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when in a six-week time span there will be two substantially identical competitions each promoted by a different organism. We could say “let the best win”: we just hope there will still be a sport to follow when the dust settles on the battlefield.
Toni Nadal Backs Gerard Pique In Row Over Davis Cup Changes, Tips Rafael To Play 2019 Finals
Uncle Toni has has jumped to the defence of the FC Barcelona centre-back.
Prestigious Spanish coach Toni Nadal has become the latest figure to lend his support behind Kosmos chief Gerard Pique over his plans concerning the Davis Cup.
From 2019 the team competition will be transformed into a week-long event. After the play-off ties in February, 18 teams will travel to Madrid to play in the finals. Removing the 118-year tradition of finals being held home or away. The plans, which was backed by an ITF vote earlier this year, has been supported by a hefty investment from Kosmos. Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion in the event over the next 25 years.
Critics of the transformation argue that the changes are too radical. World No.32 Lucas Pouille has already pledged to boycott the event. Meanwhile compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert also criticised the move.
“I am extremely sad today about the decisions of the ITF,” said Herbert. “After, it may be a good competition, but it will never be what it has been, the Davis Cup.”
Despite the controversy, 57-year-old Nadal is confident that the new format will work on the tour. Arguing that high-profile players have been missing the event in recent years due to the calendar of the tour. From next year the Davis Cup will take place over two weeks of the calendar instead of four. However, the seven-day finals take place at the end of the season after the ATP Finals. Something Alexander Zverev has previously described as ‘crazy scheduling.’
“I liked the Davis Cup as it was before, the best memories I have are the Davis Cup we played in Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, but that is unfeasible today, because the calendar made it impossible for the best to participate more often.” Nadal said during an interview with A La Contra.
“Being that very difficult, I think it’s good what Piqué has done, he has tried to make a change, an attractive competition of nations and hopefully he will do very well.”
With both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer uncertain about playing in the team competition next year, hopes have been pinned on Rafael Nadal. Spain has already qualified for the November finals after reaching the last four of the event this season.
Toni, who is the uncle and former coach of Rafael, has said the 11-time French Open champion will play in the event ‘if there is no injury in between.’ The world No.2 has been hampered by knee and abdominal issues in recent months. He also underwent minor surgery on his ankle in November.
“This year he has not been able to play more for the injuries he has had but if the body responds I think that playing 16 tournaments is not too much and I think Rafael can handle it well,” said Toni.
The first edition of the revamped Davis Cup finals will take place during November 18-24 at the Caja Magica in Madrid.
Sebastian Grosjean Named French Davis Cup Captain
The former part-time coach of Nick Kyrgios has been selected to replace compatriot Amelie Mauresmo.
Former world No.4 Sebastian Grosjean has become the new head of the French Davis Cup with an additional responsibility of overseeing his country’s Olympic program.
Grosjean, who is a four-time grand slam semifinalist, has been awarded the position following the resignation of Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo, who was set to become the first female to head the men’s team, stepped down after being appointed as the new coach of Lucas Pouille. Pouille is currently ranked 32nd in the world.
“It’s a great pride to be named captain of the France Davis Cup team because I’ve always been very attached to this event, and this post, which now has an Olympic dimension. It promises to be exciting.” Grosjean said in a statement.
“I would like to thank Pierre Cherret and the Executive Committee of the FFT (French tennis federation) for the trust they place in me, and I am going to work now to take up this magnificent challenge.”
40-year-old Grosjean represented France in 17 Davis Cup ties between 1999-2007 and won 16 out of 26 matches played. He played in the final of the competition on three occasions in 1999, 2001 and 2002. On the ATP Tour, he won four titles with his biggest triumph occurring at the 2001 Paris Masters.
Besides his Davis Cup duties, Grosjean will also oversee the French team for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. At present, France has nine men ranked in the top 100 on the ATP Tour, but none are currently inside the top 20. Players are only eligible for Olympic competition if they feature in a set amount of Davis Cup ties unless they are granted a special exception.
“The French team is stronger than anything, Sébastien’s enthusiasm is proof of this and I am happy to see a former winner moving towards the new event.” Said FFT president Bernard Giudicelli.
“His knowledge of professional tennis, in all its forms, will be a valuable asset for our federation and the players who will engage with him.”
France finished runner-up to Croatia in this year’s team event. The final was the last to held before the format of the competition is changed. From 2019, 18 teams will feature in a week-long final. A move that has triggered anger among French players and their former captain, Yannick Noah.
As a result of finishing runner-up this year, France has automatically qualified for next year’s finals at the Caja Magica in Madrid. Meaning that they will not need to play a play-off tie in February.
The 2019 Davis Cup final will take place between November 18-24.
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