ITF and Kosmos: "Our Davis Cup Is Good For Tennis" - UBITENNIS
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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

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Javier Alonso (center), CEO Kosmos Tennis, talks to the press at a working breakfast in Melbourne (Photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

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.

Davis Cup

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.

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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.

‘Demoralizing’

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.

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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.

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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.

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Davis Cup

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

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Felix Auger Aliassime (left) and Denis Shapovalov (right) at the 2019 Davis Cup Qualifier in Bratislava, 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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