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

India’s political gambit throws Indo-Pakistan Davis Cup tie into chaos

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Davis Cup,
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The prospect of being sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) prompted the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the apex Indian tennis body, to agree to visit Pakistan for the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie in September 2019. The tie – scheduled for 14th-15th September – would have been the first time since 1964 that India would have visited its neighbour and arch-rival to play the Davis Cup.

 

Up until last week, almost all details had been laid out. The venue had been decided – the tie was to be played on outdoor grass in Islamabad – and the visiting nation had announced its squad under the captaincy of Mahesh Bhupathi. And while security concerns remained a subject of discussion, they did not threaten any late-minute forfeiture of the tie.

The Cause of Problems, and the Aftermath

The Indian government’s decision to do away with a key article of the country’s constitution about its northern region of Jammu and Kashmir on 6th August, however, changed the dynamics of the Indo-Pak socio-political relationship yet again. On the said date, India’s home minister Amit Shah announced that Article 370 of the constitution would be abrogated. The Article, as it had come into effect in 1954 after being amended, gave Jammu and Kashmir special autonomy within the country’s geopolitical and social ambit. The Article was signed by the then ruler of the province Hari Singh who did not want to join either India or Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 after it gained independence from the British Empire.

Soon after India’s announcement, Pakistan – which regards Kashmir as its territory under Indian occupation – retaliated by snapping the existing diplomatic channels between the countries. It also approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) asking the UN body to take up the issue.

In India and globally, there is also fear that the Kashmir problem could thrust both nations into a war-like scenario yet again. Concerning sports, specifically tennis, in this case, the Indian tennis administration does not want its players to face any potential security threat in Pakistan on account of the altered landscape.

The AITA Stand

Yet, despite the worry of any possible breach of security, the AITA does not want to take any premature step vis-à-vis the tie either. On 9th August, when the author of this story spoke to the AITA, the association’s general-secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee said that the AITA was taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We are waiting for two more days,” said Chatterjee. “…I will wait for today because Saturday and Sunday, the ITF will be closed, so Monday (12th August), I will respond… (So) we will see the situation, how it turns in the next two days.”

Noting that the operations of the sole train service between the two nations had been stopped and the airspace between them had been closed by Pakistan, Chatterjee rued that the situation was “not very conducive at the moment”. According to him, if the diplomatic relationship between the sub-continental giants were to improve in the next couple of days, the Indian team would not fail to travel westwards.

“Thereafter (after two days), we will write to the ITF may be suggesting that looking at the situation they should (move the) tie to a neutral venue,” Chatterjee noted, emphasised that India was not considering forfeiting the tie at any cost. “We are very keen to play the tie because (it) is very important for us. There is a lot of difference at stake for them (Pakistan) and us. So, it is very important we play this tie.”

Finally, when asked if the AITA was worried about the ITF sanctioning Indian Davis Cup aspirations, Chatterjee unequivocally denied that the eventuality would come to that.

“It won’t come to that. It shouldn’t come to that because everyone knows the situation. The ITF also knows the situation,” he said before subtly punting the ball back onto the ITF’s side. “The ITF can’t put us into a situation where there is going to be a lot of anxiety. I don’t want that to happen. So, we will discuss it and will come to an amicable solution.”

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Davis Cup

Gerard Pique Takes Swipe At The ATP Cup Over Calendar Scheduling

The Kosmos founder has made some comments that will likely not go down well with the governing body of men’s tennis.

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Barcelona F.C. player and Kosmos founder Gerard Pique has come out fighting against critics of the newly revamped Davis Cup.

 

The 32-year-old was an instrumental figure behind the controversial changes to the 119-year-old team competition. His company Kosmos has pledged to invest $3 billion over the next 25 years. From 2019, the finals will take place over a week and feature 18 teams taking part. Removing the concept of home and away finals. It will be played in group stages with a format similar to that of the FIFA World Cup.

Since the revamp was approved last year, there has been a mixed reception in the world of tennis. A series of high-profile figures has branded the revamp as too radical and accused the International Tennis Federation (ITF) of killing the competition. Ion Tiriac, who is the president of the Romanian Tennis Federation, recently sent a letter to governing body voicing his anger. In it, he wrote ‘I strongly believe that many players will not accept to play in this format and that the nationalist glamour has been lost forever.’

Speaking to The Times, Pique has insisted that the Davis Cup will be a hit despite its criticism. The first edition of the week-long finals will take place in November at the end of the season. It will be held at the Caja Magica in the Spanish capital of Madrid.

“I totally understand that when someone comes from another sport and if you change something that is very traditional like the Davis Cup for the better of the sport there will be some people who won’t buy it and they won’t believe in it,” Piqué said. “We need time to convince the people that this is the right way to go. What we need in November is to prove these people wrong. I cannot simply convince them with words. What I will try to do is put in all my effort and experience from other sports. We will try to do our best to create an incredible event. I’m sure we will convince some of them, but it is impossible to convince everyone.”

It isn’t just changing the attitudes of others that Pique and Co have to fight against. It is also dealing with competition from the ATP. From next year the ATP Cup will be held annually in Australia at the start of each season. Both prize money and, more crucially ranking points will be on offer for those taking part. The Davis Cup, which is run by the ITF, can’t award points.

Players such as Alexander Zverev has ruled themselves out of playing in the Davis Cup finals as it will eat into their limited off-season training period. However, Pique has suggested that the newly created ATP Cup is in an even worse position in the calendar. A comment that will not help the tentative relationships between Kosmos and the ATP.

“It is true that maybe some people don’t see it as the best place in the calendar for us, but if you want to create a big event, I prefer to be where I am than the ATP Cup.” He stated.
“It will be the first event of the season and the Australian Open is two weeks after. As a professional athlete, you cannot start the pre-season with a big competition because normally you use it for warming up, a little bit like the Hopman Cup in the past. We are at the end of the season. Maybe for the players it is a long season, but it is the last event and a different event because of the uniqueness of playing for your country and the atmosphere we want to create.”

There have been talks about there being just one team event, but at the moment it is unlikely. The ATP is not going to surrender a tournament they have just revived and spent millions on. The same applies to the ITF, whose current president is a key backer of the reform.

“We had so many meetings with the ATP to try to arrive to a deal to create one event or go together. This is something that we are still working on. I think that both competitions have pros and cons. In the Davis Cup, we have the freedom to go elsewhere every two or for years. This is something that it doesn’t seem the ATP Cup will do because they have to be attached to Australia.” Pique concluded.

The Davis Cup finals will take place between 18-24 November.

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Davis Cup

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”

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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].

 

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