EXCLUSIVE: Former Davis Cup Heroes Speak Out On New Changes To Competition - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Former Davis Cup Heroes Speak Out On New Changes To Competition

Ubitennis speaks with Mats Wilander, Thomas Enqvist and Mark Woodforde about the new format of the team competition.

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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

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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.

 

Davis Cup

Juan Martin Del Potro Hits Back At Claim Made By Pique Over Davis Cup Involvement

It had been claimed that the former top 10 player was pondering playing in Madrid later this year.

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The team of former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has denied that he has been involved in talks with Kosmos to play in the revamped Davis Cup later this year.

 

It had been claimed by Kosmos founder Gerard Pique that the Argentine has been in negotiations about playing the event, which has undergone a change in format. In November 18 teams will travel to Madrid to play in a week-long group competition. Similar to that of the football World Cup. A move that has divided opinion in the sport with critics arguing that the change is too radical.

“We are talking with Del Potro, (but) it obviously depends on the injury, see how he returns. But yes, we are in permanent contact with him.” Ubitennis’ Spanish-language site quoted Pique as saying.

Pique, who plays football for Barcelona F.C, was caught on audio saying the statement. However, it has now been suggested that he has either misspoken on even lied about del Potro. A statement issued by Del Potro’s communications team stated that no such thing has happened.

“TeamDelpo clarifies that there were no negotiations between the Kosmos Group and Juan Martin del Potro about the next Davis Cup in Madrid.” Their statement reads.
“We deny in this way the journalistic versions that speak of economic arrangements, “approaches”, “departures” or “concrete offers.”

The 30-year-old hasn’t played a match on the ATP Tour since injuring his knee at the Fever-Tree Championships in June. The latest setback for the injury-stricken player, who has undergone five surgeries since 2014. Del Potro is set to start his latest comeback in Europe at the Swedish Open, which will start on October 14th.

It has been rumoured that during the Davis Cup finals, Del Potro could play Roger Federer in an exhibition match in his home country on November 20th. Federer is another high-profile absentee from the team event. The potential clash has been reported by Argentinian journalist Danny Miche in his podcast. However, it is understood that nothing is finalised as of yet due to various economic factors.

There has been no response so far from Kosmos regarding Del Potro’s statement.

 

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ATP

Gerard Pique Sheds Light On Chances of Roger Federer Returning To Davis Cup

The Swiss maestro is the only member of the Big Three not to feature in the revamped event later this year.

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There is a 50/50 chance that Roger Federer could play in next year’s Davis Cup finals, according to Kosmos founder Gerard Pique.

 

The Barcelona F.C. player has confirmed that talks are ongoing about the former world No.1 featuring in the historic event, which has been revamped this year. For the first time in it’s 119-year history, the finals will take place over a week and feature 18 teams taking part in a round-robin format. The change has split opinion in the sport, but was given the green light at the ITF’s annual AGM meeting last year. Pique’s investment company Kosmos is a key financial backer of the changes.

One notable absence from this year’s finals, which will be held in Madrid, is Federer. The former world No.1 has in the past been a critic of the new format. Once saying the tournament has been designed for ‘the future generation of players,’ but not him. He has also warned against the team competition being turned into the ‘Pique Cup.’ A term the Spaniard is not a fan of.

“I wanted since the first moment I arrived in the tennis world, is to try to help this sport.” Pique said during an interview with Sport Business.
“Switzerland has not qualified for November so even if Roger wants to play in this event, he cannot, but we are talking with him and his agent to discuss the possibility to play in 2020.”

As is currently stands, Federer is the only member of the big three not to be playing. Rafael Nadal has vowed to play if healthy and Novak Djokovic announced his attendance on the eve of the US Open. The Serbian had previously expressed his reservations over participating due to its close proximity to the ATP Cup, another team event that will kick-off in January.

“I just feel like the date of the Davis Cup is really bad, especially for the top players. Between the two, I will prioritize the World Team Cup because that’s a competition of ATP.” The world No.1 said last year.

So why has Djokovic decided to play in Madrid? When asked in Flushing Meadows he said he wanted to represent his country. However, Pique believes there is more to it than that. Saying that he had managed to persuade the Serbian following conversations between the two.

“I said to him, ‘I know you are an ATP player but at the same time you represent the federation of Serbia, which is part of the ITF which invests in young talent and the future of tennis. I think it makes total sense that you participate in both competitions because it is a message that at the end of the day that you want [for the ATP and ITF] to work together.”

One criticism of the event is the timing of the finals. They will take place between November 18-24, the week after the ATP Finals in London. Partly eating into what is already a relatively short off-season for many players on the tour.

ITF President David Haggerty is hoping that negotiations over a potential change in dates can be made in the future with the new leader of the ATP. Current CEO Chris Kermode will be leaving his position later this year after failing to receive enough backing in a ATP board meeting.

“There is leadership change coming and once that’s completed we will continue discussions to see what’s the best date.” Haggerty outlined.
“We need to have the first Davis Cup finals in November and the ATP Cup will be in January and then we will have more facts and have a good discussion.”

The inaugural Davis Cup finals will be held at the Caja Magica. The same venue as the Madrid Open, which takes place annually in May.

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Davis Cup

Novak Djokovic To Play Revamped Davis Cup In Madrid

The world No.1 has confirmed his participation in the event for the first time ahead of his US Open campaign.

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Novak Djokovic is set to travel to Madrid later this year to play in the newly revamped Davis Cup finals following months of uncertainty.

 

For the first time in the tournaments 119-year history, the finals will feature 18 teams playing over a week. The transformation was given the go ahead at the ITF AGM meeting last year amid a  divide in the sport about the move. Some critics have branded the move as too extreme. Voicing anger at the decision to remove away home and away finals. The main investor in the revamp is Kosmos, who has pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years. Kosmos was founded by Barcelona F.C player Gerard Pique.

News of Djokovic’s upcoming appearance has been confirmed by the captain of the Serbian Davis Cup team, Nenad Zimonjic. In a statement published on Monday before the start of the US Open, Zimonjic said the two have held discussions.

“Yes, we have fantastic news, Novak will participate in the final tournament in Madrid. I had the opportunity to speak with him in New York, the day before the start of the final grand slam competition in the 2019 season at the US Open.” Zimonjic said in a statement published on the website of the Serbian Tennis Association.
“Novak confirmed that he would join the team in Madrid, it will be a huge boost for us and we are all looking forward to participating in this competition, which will also be the first tournament to be played in this new format.”

There has been doubts over Djokovic’s participation due to the close proximity of the event to the ATP Finals, which takes place a week prior. The 16-time grand slam champion had also previously indicated that he would prefer to play in the new ATP World Team Cup, which launches in January, over the Davis Cup. The new event offers both ranking points and prize money.

“I just feel like the date of the Davis Cup is really bad, especially for the top players. Between the two, I will prioritize the World Team Cup because that’s a competition of ATP.” Djokovic said last year.

Despite his past reservations, the head of the Serbian team believes the schedule will not be a factor for Djokovic despite the short turnaround. Should he reach the final of the season ending championships, Djokovic will play in London on a Sunday and then fly to Madrid to get ready for his country’s first tie on the following Wednesday against Japan.

“I believe the tournament in London will end on Sunday when the (ATP) finals are played. He will join the team in Madrid immediately after the final Masters in London.” Zimonjic outlined.
“The rest of the team and our entire national team will arrive a little earlier, starting Thursday 14th (November). To adapt to the conditions of the game, as well as the high altitude of 667 meters and perfectly prepare for the matches that await us there.”

Djokovic will play Roberto Carballés Baena in the first round of the US Open. He was a member of the Serbian team that won their first and so far only Davis Cup title back in 2010.

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