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.
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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