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.
Poland To Take ITF To Court In Row Over Davis Cup Rankings As Other Nations Voice Anger
A fresh row is brewing in the world of tennis after a series of tennis federations in recent days have expressed their displeasure with the new ranking system for the Davis Cup.
The Polish Tennis Federation (PZT) has announced that they are to launch an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the wake of the new system that has been implemented in the Davis Cup.
A change to the Davis Cup ranking system this year has resulted in the Polish team being placed in World Group III. Even though they scored wins over Romania, Slovenia and Zimbabwe last year to qualify for Group I under the old system. The reason why they have been regulated back to the third group is because the new Kosmos-backed competition takes into account points won over the past four years. Something that has outraged the PZT and their players.
“As the PZT management board, we will fight to return where we should be.” Vice-president Victor Archutowski told the Polish Press Agency.
“We are at the stage of choosing a law firm that will handle the appeal that we will send to CAS. We have already prepared documentation. We will fight. We have interviewed ITF members that give little hope. We should know their answer within two weeks.”
The Federation are appealing for their team to be reinstated back into Group I. If that fails, they will be claiming for compensation from the International Tennis Federation for their players who will have to player in the lower group. The PZT has ruled out the possibility of a boycott because of the impact it could have on the Olympic qualification process for their players.
“We were thinking about setting up a substitute squad, but the players are obliged to perform in them in order to be able to play in the Olympic games afterwards.” Explained Archutowski.
“Next year, we could have had a Davis Cup match in Tokyo, so if they did not play now, we would block them from joining the Olympic tournament.”
Support From allies
In the wake of the ranking system, other countries have also expressed their anger over the current situation. Calude Lamberty, who is the president of Tennis Luxembourg, has sent a formal letter to the ITF. In it, the federation said they ‘disagreed’ and was ‘disappointed’ by the new system. Pledging their full support behind Poland. The letter has also been signed by the national director of the Davis Cup, Markus Stegmann.
“The system applied, depending exclusively on the nations ranking, is at least in our appreciation against all sports principles. In the play-off tie last year in April, our team won against the Georgian team and achieved by that, according to Davis Cup rules, to stay in Group II. Now, after the qualifiers for the world finals, our team is, despite this sporting achievement last year, related to Group III and Georgia, who should have been relegated considering the results of last year, remains instead of Luxemburg in Group II. Even worse is the case of Poland, which gets relegated to Group III instead of going up into Group I.” An extract from the letter reads.
Monaco’s chief representative in the sport has branded the changes as ‘sportingly unacceptable.’ Elizabeth-Ann de Me Massy, who is the president of her national tennis association, says the new format has a negative impact on both players and fans.
The I.T.F. is very performant and productive as far as accumulating actions and decisions which is killing the Davis Cup, one of the most prestigious worldwide Tennis Competition with almost 120 years of History. Now, the new rules concerning the different group levels of the 2019 format are just sportingly unacceptable.
It will be more and more difficult for players and sponsors to keep their motivation and for the fans their enthusiasm. The Monaco Tennis Federation stands fully by other federations facing the same issue: Luxembourg, Poland, Montenegro, Estonia, Namibia and Kenya.
Outside of Europe, there is also frustration in other countries. Last June Kenya won the Africa Group III championship. Booking their place in the Euro/Africa Group II group at the time. However, following the Davis Cup revamp they are not ranked high enough to play in the group they have technically qualified for in 2018. Kenya believes that have a disadvantage before they were unable to field a team to play in the 2015 team event. Therefore they were unable to get any points.
“We are very disappointed since we didn’t know the changes adopted at the AGM would affect the Davis Cup format in 2019,” Tennis Kenya chairman James Kenani told The Daily Nation. “It’s demoralising to countries even if the prize money in Davis Cup has been increased.”
Kenani has said that both Kenya and Poland launched an appeal to the ITF Arbitration Committee, but it was rejected. Kenya had already put in place a budget of roughly Sh8.7 million for their team to play in Euro/Africa Group II.
“Alternatively, the changes should have come into effect after 2019 since teams had already qualified in 2018. You can’t punish countries who had invested their energies to qualify because a new sponsor has come on board,” Kenani argues. “They say countries are bound to benefit immensely but that is not how to manage events.”
Like Kenya, Namibia are also in the same situation after finishing runners-up in Africa Group III last year.
Alexander Zverev Praises ‘Great Guy’ Pique, But Reiterates Intention To Skip Davis Cup Finals
The world No.3 has criticised the changes made to the Davis Cup.
Alexander Zverev has said he hopes the Davis Cup will one day return back to the old format following his country’s whitewash win over Hungary.
Zverev won both of his singles matches over the weekend to guide his country to a 5-0 victory and a place in the Davis Cup finals later this year. 2019 will see 18 teams play in a week-long competition during November in what has been a controversial revamp of the historic competition. The changes were passed last August at the International Tennis Federation’s AGM meeting. The revamp has come to life with the help of company Kosmos, who has pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years. The company was founded by football player Gerard Pique.
“The home game feeling is very special and I think it’s too bad that we lose it,” Zverev told German media over the weekend.
21-year-old Zverev has previously criticised the timing of the finals and have already announced that he would not play. They will take place at the end of the season after the conclusion of the ATP World Tour Finals. During the Shanghai Masters last October, Zverev blasted the scheduling as ‘crazy.’
“I think all the top guys will say the same thing. We have one and a half months off in our season, and that’s end of November and December.” He said.
“Making a tournament end of November which is 10 days* playing and competing, it’s crazy.
“By the end of the year we are all tired.”
*(Zverev was speaking before it was announced that the competition would take place over seven days).
Three months on from those comments and the German refuses to change his mind. In recent months Kosmos founder Pique has come under fire over his involvement in the competition. Lleyton Hewitt, who is the captain of the Australian team, said it was ‘mind boggling’ that the Spaniard was involved. Accusing him of a lack of knowledge about the sport.
Unlike Hewitt, Zverev has backed Pique by describing him as a ‘great guy.’ However, the friendship between the two has failed to resolve their differences concerning the Davis Cup.
“We are good friends and often talk to each other. We also had dinner together. We get along very well. He is a great guy, but there is no one in the world who will change my mind to play in Madrid. I am a grown person and have my own opinion and it will stay that way.” Zverev stated.
“I hope to win the Davis Cup in the format that has been held for the last 120 years.” He later added.
The views of Zverev are ones that have been backed by his captain Michael Kohlmann. Germany has been one of the most vocal opponents of the changes and voted against the revamp last year. Dirk Hordorff, who is the vice-president of the German tennis Federation (DTB), previously named the countries that voted for the changes. Accusing them of killing the competition.
“The association and I are not friends of this new system. I think it’s very good when people like Lleyton Hewitt or Sascha (Zverev) give a clear position. That may have an impact on decisions. Nevertheless, the game mode is different at the moment and we have to deal with it.” Said Kohlmann.
The Davis Cup finals will be held at the Caja Magic in Madrid. It will take place between 18-24 November.
Canada’s Teenager Team Graduates From Slovakia And Heads To Madrid
BRATISLAVA – A gutsy performance by teenagers Auger Aliassime and Shapovalov marks Canada’s comeback against Slovakia
CANADA b. SLOVAKIA 3-2
F. Polasek/M. Klizan (SVK) b. F. Auger-Aliassime/D. Shapovalov (CAN) 3-6 7-5 6-3
D. Shapovalov (CAN) b. M. Klizan (SVK) 7-6(4) 6-4
F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN) b. N. Gombos (SVK) 6-3 6-4
It took all five rubbers to decide the Slovakia-Canada tie this weekend in Bratislava, but in the end it was the “teenage gang” of Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime that won the ticket for the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid next November. After the 1-1 result on Friday, the North American team went through a very disappointing loss in the doubles and was then forced to win both final singles rubbers to complete the comeback and seal their triumph.
In front of more than 3000 people who were already on the stands of the NTC Arena at the unusual start time of 11 am, Auger Aliassime and Shapovalov comfortably won the first set of the doubles rubber against the more experienced Slovaks Martin Klizan and Filip Polasek. The latter had played a few ATP tournaments together last fall during the indoor season, while the two Canadians had not been an official doubles couple since their title at the US Open juniors in 2016. Their defensive game was working perfectly against the more traditional offensive doubles strategy of the Slovak couple until at 5-5 in the second set Polasek started hitting very good returns from the deuce court followed by very effective volleys, and Klizan started to dictate from the ad court with his left-handed returns. In a moment the match was turned, the momentum went on the side of the Slovak couple that, after winning the second set by 7-5, managed to get a 3-1 lead in the third and see it through until the end of the match.
With the backs to the wall and two singles rubbers to win for a pass to Madrid, the two youngsters (37 years of age between the two of them) rolled up their sleeves and delivered a masterful performance.
Denis Shapovalov won by 7-6(4) 6-4 against n.38 ATP Martin Klizan in what was probably the best match of the weekend. High-level rallies, passing shots, blistering accelerations: Shapovalov took the lead in the fourth game with a break from 40-0 down and only hesitated a little when he squandered five set points at 5-3 and 5-4, allowing his opponent to catch him up at 5-5. Nonetheless, unscathed by the events, the young Canadian never lost control of the match, always remained in the lead during the subsequent tie-break and closed up the first set after 59 minutes on his seventh set point.
The second set continued to produce the same high level of tennis and saw Klizan make a couple of fatal unforced errors at 4-4 launching his opponent towards a straight-set victory that left the fate of the tie in the hands of the fifth rubber.
The arena was buzzing with excitement, fans and VIPs alike were all enthralled by the developing events (we say Marian Vajda, Novak Djokovic’s coach, in the stand to support the Slovak team) and the Slovak captain decided to trust Norbert Gombos instead of Filip Horansky with the decisive single. But it didn’t really matter that much, because 18-year-old Davis Cup rookie Felix Auger Aliassime provided an impeccable performance where he led from start to finish to deliver a 6-3 6-4 that earned Canada the ticket for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.
One of the youngest teams ever to represent a country in Davis Cup (most likely the youngest in history since 1988, when the USA played Argentina with the 18-year-old Andre Agassi and the 16-year-old Michael Chang) managed to complete a comeback from 1-2 down during an away tie on a surface that was not considered their favourite. “I think all the doubts about me not being able to play on clay are gone after today’s match – said Shapovalov after his win against Klizan – the level was really high and I’ve shown I can play on this surface”. With Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil potentially returning from their injuries and rejoining the team for the Madrid event, Canada can travel to the Davis Cup Finals with legitimate ambitions to fight for the ultimate prize.
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