This weekend will see the start of a new era in men’s tennis as the revamped Davis Cup kicks off with the qualifying rounds taking place.
24 teams will battle it out for 12 places in the final of the competition in what is the new format of the event. Following approval at the ITF AGM in August, for the first time in history the finals of the competition will take place in one location over a week. A total of 18 teams are set to take part – 12 qualifiers, the four semi-finalists from the previous year and two wild cards.
The transformation has been far from simple with some players and their national association’s voicing opposition. Critics argue that the changes are too radical, ruins the tradition of the 119-year-old event, the scheduling eats into the off-season and the financial pledges that has been made are dubious. Investment firm Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion over a 25-year period with a promise that countries would receive more money. Something that has previously been disputed by the head of Tennis Europe.
Perhaps the best way to gage an idea of the current situation is to consult with those who has played in the competition for years. Thomas Enqvist has had the opportunity of being both player and captain for his country. The Swede compiled a win-loss record of 15-11 in the competition and won both of his singles matches during the 1996 final.
“Speaking from a player point of view, I think that all of us would say that it is a big honour to represent your country. My best memories in tennis come from the Davis Cup.” Enqvist told Ubitennis.
Sweden was one of the countries that voted for the revamp of the competition, according to a list published by the vice-president of the German Tennis Federation. The ITF never published a list of the countries that voted for or against the plans. Arguing that this was done for confidentiality reasons. Nevertheless, 44-year-old Enqvist is remaining cautiously optimistic about the changes. Arguing that people need to wait and see before they can judge.
“I think we have to give them time. We have to see. They have tried to put something on to make sure that all the top major players can play. Hopefully it’s going to be a good choice.” He said.
For Mats Wilander, the Davis Cup is one of the biggest events in a player’s career. Wilander is a former world No.1 player, who represented his country in 27 ties over a 14-year period. He helped secure the Davis Cup trophy in the final of the competition three times throughout the 1980s.
“The only reason why I am playing tennis is because of the Davis Cup.” Wilander states.
“The effect the Davis Cup has had on pretty much every player that is here today. My generation, the generation before and the generation after. The effect of the Davis Cup is much bigger than the effect of grand slams because you are watching your nation play.”
The ATP threat
If the changes aren’t enough to contend with, a new tournament poses as a potential threat to the existence of the historic competition. 2020 will see the resurrection of the World Team Cup. Overseen by the ATP, who governs men’s tennis, the event has on offer ranking points and a prize money pool of $15 million. The tournament will be held at the start of each year, less than two months after the Davis Cup finals, in three cities across Australia.
ATP CEO Chris Kermode has previously insisted that the World Cup is not a threat to the other team events. At the official launch in November, Kermode told a crowd of reporters ‘There seems to be a fixation that the ATP Cup has caused the issue with the Davis Cup and this is not the case. If the ATP Cup didn’t exist, the Davis Cup still wouldn’t have a week in the calendar.’
Taking those words at face value, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Should there?
“I think only time can tell. Maybe both can prevail. I have no idea.” Enqvist admitted.
Wilander is more up front with his views. For him, the decision of hosting the Davis Cup finale in a neutral country might come back to haunt the ITF in the future. Saying that the new format has unnecessarily placed the event in a competition with the ATP Cup.
“The ATP Cup is about the team of a country’s players. The Davis Cup has a brand and it’s not about the team, it’s about the country.” He explained.
“If Davis Cup goes to a neutral ground, then there is a big competition (with the ATP Cup).
“My suggestion would be that the semi-finals and finals have to be played home and away. Whereas the first two rounds can be played during a week on a natural ground.”
The removal of the home and away element to the Davis Cup finals may have a negative effect on the younger audience, instead of their goal of trying to make it appeal more to that target market. A somewhat ironic outcome. Wilander warns that under the new situation, less children might be inspired to participate in tennis.
“Would what be the effect if, lets say, Belgium plays away on a neutral ground? What will be the effect and inspiration for the kids in Belgium. Are they even going to watch it? Because they don’t watch Wimbledon, they don’t watch the US Open, they don’t watch David Goffin lose in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the French Open. But they will watch Belgium play at home in Belgium, maybe even away in somewhere like France. That will inspire them.”
Woodforde’s call for calm
Throughout the entire situation, Tennis Australia has been one of the most vocal opponents. Earlier this week, team captain Lleyton Hewitt slammed Kosmos founder Gerard Pique. Telling reporters that it was ‘mind boggling’ that the competition was being run by somebody who had little knowledge about tennis. Hewitt was among a group of individuals from Tennis Australia that signed a letter last year condemning the changes.
Not all people from Australia are against the change. Mark Woodforde argues that action had to be taken before it was too late. The 53-year-old is regarded as one of his country’s greatest ever doubles players, winning 12 grand slam titles in men’s doubles and a further six in the mixed. Alongside Todd Woodbridge, the pair won more doubles matches (14) in the Davis Cup than any other Australian duo.
“I didn’t want to see the Davis Cup competition disappear and that was my biggest fear.” Said Woodforde. “If there wasn’t any changes to make it a significant event again, we wouldn’t have a Davis Cup competition at all.”
Elaborating further, Woodforde argues that there will be a more ‘exciting’ element brought to the Davis Cup. Something others dispute.
“I believe it is the same Davis Cup book, but a different chapter. I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s innovative.” He said.
“I think there has been more negative comments about the format and the competition hasn’t even started. Those pessimist out there, I like to think that a lot of good things are going to be happening top the competition.” He added.
The opinions of Enqvist, Wilander and Woodforde are ones that reflects the current situation in men’s tennis. All are passionate about the sport, but trying to find a common ground seems to be a tough task. If the legends of the sport can’t reach an agreement, what hope does the rest have?
The future of men’s team competition is complexed and unclear. The only certainty is that disagreements and arguments between the key figures in the sport will continue for the foreseeable future. Whether we like it or not.
REPORT: Valencia To Host Group Stage Of Davis Cup Finals As Part Of Five-Year Deal
It is understood that negotiations are at an advanced stage and an announcement could be made very soon.
The Spanish city of Valencia has been chosen as the fourth and final host of the group stages of the Davis Cup Finals, according to two separate media sources.
Regional newspaper Las Provincias has reported that negotiations have been ongoing between officials in the region and Kosmos, the investment company who oversees the running of the tournament. It has been reported that talks between the two are at an ‘advance’ stage with it only being a matter of time before a deal is finalized.
An announcement is expected to be made as early as this week that Valencia has signed a five-year deal to host the Davis Cup. However, the venue of where the event will be hosted is still to be confirmed. One of the options is the bullring known as the Plaza de Toros de Valencia which has staged numerous Davis Cup ties in the past. However, another venue may seem more suitable considering the time of year and the fact four teams are taking part.
Valencia’s rumoured appointment fills in the gap left by Malaga who have been named host of the knockout finals in November after initially being awarded the chance to hold one of the four group stages along with Glasglow, Bologna and Hamburg. Malaga will also host the finale in 2023 as well. Making it the fourth time in a row the finale of the event has been held in Spain.
News outlet Levante–EMV has also confirmed Valencia’s intention to host the team event and say officials have already expressed a desire to one day host the knock-out stages in November. Although there is no guarantee that will happen.
The development comes shortly after France pulled out of the bidding process due to what they described as ‘onerous’ financial and operational conditions which none of their potential organizers was willing to accept. France was initially excluded from the hosting process and filed a case to the Court of Arbitration in March for Sport (CAS) saying the decision was unfair. However, a month later they were allowed to take part. It is unclear as to why they were initially excluded.
Davis Cup officials are yet to publicly comment on Valencia’s appointment but it is expected that they will do so very soon. In their latest communication, organizers said they plan to announce the fourth host of the group stages, which is said to be Valencia, before the draw takes place on April 26th.
The group stages of the 2022 Davis Cup Finals will take place from 14-18 September. Each group will consist of four teams with ties being a best-of-three rubbers taking place on the same day. The top two teams from each group will then progress to the knockout stages which will take place between November 23-27.
Alexander Zverev Hits Out At Brazilian Crowd Following Davis Cup Tie
Playing in his first event since being disqualified from an ATP event, Germany’s top player has accused some of those attending the tie of being ‘rude.’
Alexander Zverev says ‘lines were crossed’ by some fans attending his country’s Davis Cup tie against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend.
The world No.3 said members of his family received verbal abuse from some of those attending the tie during his matches. Zverev also accused the same people of ‘being rude all the time’ whilst he was serving. Although he didn’t elaborate on exactly what was said. Zverev played in two singles matches which he won in straight sets against Thiago Monteiro and Thiago Seyboth Wild.
“It gets towards, you know, your family members or when it gets towards somebody that you love, this is where I draw the line for respect. That line was crossed, basically, you know, every single game we play.” Zverev said following his second match of the tie on Saturday.
“Someone can say what they want to me, they can like it or hate me, I understand that now they don’t like me very much. In my match and in the doubles match, they (the crowd) were rude all the time of the (my) serve. People who came to watch tennis, cheer for Brazil, and be respectful. They have my greatest respect. I enjoyed playing in an atmosphere that was high, energetic, but some crossed the line.”
This weekend was the first competitive matches Zverev had played since getting kicked out of the Mexican Open for unsportsmanlike conduct. During a first round doubles match at the tournament he repeatedly swore at the umpire and then hit his chair multiple times with his racket. At one stage he narrowly missed hitting the foot of the umpire. He was later fined a total of $40,000 and lost all of his prize money earned from the tournament. Although former world No.1 Mats Wilander believes more action should have been taken against the player.
As a result of the outburst, the ATP has launched an investigation as part of its protocol. Making it the second investigation they have launched against the former US Open finalist. The first is an ongoing look into allegations he physically abused his former girlfriend Olga Sharypova during the 2019 Shanghai Masters. Journalist Jose Morgado reports that Olga’s name was shouted a couple times by members of the crowd during this week’s Davis Cup tie.
It is unknown as to when either of these investigations will be completed by.
Despite the controversy, Germany cruised to an overall 3-1 win over Brazil to seal their place in the finals later this year. The team will be hoping to go one step further than they did in 2021 when they managed to reach the semi-final stage for the first time in 14 years.
Dayana Yastremska sets up Lyon final against Zhang Shuai
Ukrainian wildcard Dayana Yastremska overcame number 2 seed Sorana Cristea 7-6 (7-5)4-6 6-4 in 2 hours and 31 minutes to reach the final at the Open 6ème Sens in Lyon.
Yastremska set up a final against number 8 seed Zhang Shuai, who edged past Caroline Garcia 6-2 7-5 in 1 hour and 75 minutes.
Both Yastremska and Zhang Shuai will play in their fifth career final.
Yastremska lost to Ashleigh Barty in her last final in Adelaide 2020. The Ukrainian will be chasing her fourth career title and their first trophy since Strasbourg 2019. Zhang is aiming to win her first title since Guangzhou 2017.
Yastremska rallied from 1-4 down and pulled back on serve in the opening set. Yastremska fended off two set points with backhand winners, as she was serving at 5-6. Yastremska closed out the tie-break 7-5 with a service winner on her first set point.
Yastremska opened up a 3-0 lead, but Cristea reeled off six of the next seven games to win the second set 6-4 forcing the match to the decisive set.
Yastremska wasted three match points at 5-3 in the third set after a double fault on the second chance. The Ukrainian player did not convert another match point, as Cristea earned a break point. The Romanian player converted it, but Yastremska sealed the win on her fourth match point.
“It was a really tough match. In the third set, when I had match points and I lost that game, I was a bit crazy. I thought, I am done. I have lost because I don’t have any more power. Then everybody was supporting me, and I felt like, you can do it. I read a lot of news every day. Sometimes during the night I get messages from groups with the news. Sometimes I wake up and read what’s going on, especially with my city. I would not say I sleep here really good”, said Yastremska.
Zhang dropped just eight points on her first serve and saved two of her three break points she faced.
Garcia saved four double break points and came back from 1-3 to take a 4-3 lead. Zhang broke serve to break in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead, and converted her second match point, as Garcia sent her backhand long.
Yastremska is 1.1 level against Zhang in their previous two head-to-head matches. Yastremska beat Zhang 7-5 6-4 in the semifinals in Hong Kong en route to her first WTA title in 2018. Zhang beat Yastremska 6-4 1-6 6-2 in the Wimbledon fourth round in 2019.
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