Since its birth in 1900, the Davis Cup has gone through its fair share of changes but nothing as extraordinary as what happened four years ago.
At the International Tennis Federation’s annual AGM meeting a motion was passed which saw the competition remodelled into an 18-team event held at the end of the season. The move divided tennis with critics furious at the decision to remove the tradition of home and away ties. In the coming years, further adjustments have been made to the event with this year’s competition featuring four group ties held in different cities in September with eight qualifying for the finals in November.
The revamp was only made possible following a huge 25-year investment from Kosmos which was valued at $3bn (£2.15bn). Kosmos is a Spanish-based investment firm founded by Barcelona FC footballer Gerald Pique. The company has their own specific branch designated for tennis which has been led by CEO Enric Rojas since 2020 who had previously worked for IMG. It is fair to say that Rojas has his work cut out as he continues to deal with critics of his organization to this present day.
Over the past week, some players and fans have criticized the Davis Cup concerning a couple of issues. Ubitennis raised these concerns during a call with Rojas who also outlined Kosmos’ current position and their future plans.
UBITENNIS: The Davis Cup has undergone many changes in its history. This year four cities are hosting the group stages and then the final is in Malaga. Is this the final format or do you foresee any additional changes being made to the schedule of the event?
ROJAS: We have done this evolution (on making adjustments to the Davis Cup formats) until this year with four groups of four in September and then the finals in Malaga. This format of having the qualifiers in week five, group stages in week 37 and the finals in week 47 are going to stay.
We don’t expect any changes going forward, it’s a format that is working. We need to improve a few things as you can imagine. But it’s a format that is going to stay.
UBITENNIS: You mentioned improvements, one thing that has raised concerns is the late-night finishes. For example, Great Britain’s tie with the USA didn’t end until 0100 BST. Do you think the ties should begin at midday to make it fairer?
ROJAS: That’s a good question. Although this format is staying, we still need to improve a few things and this is one element that we will put on the table at the end of the group stage for us to review together with the ITF. We thought with these timings that these slots would be great. Especially in central Europe, and western Europe.
We thought starting around this time when people were starting to finish work would be better but this has had an effect on the match times. We review this and are open to making changes if we feel that it is better to start earlier.
UBITENNIS: Another thing people have been speaking about is the prices of tickets. In Germany, one player was quoted in their press conference as saying that he felt it was ‘totally understandable that a lot of fans won’t come (to the Davis Cup) because it is brutally expensive.’ When a player is saying these things, how do you address this?
ROJAS: There are federations, even private promoters, involved in the organization of the group stages. We (Kosmos) are also the promoter on behalf of the ITF and with our investments, we need to keep everybody happy and also have a bit of return on our investment because in the end there is also a private element to those investments.
It’s true that the attendance was not as great as we were looking for. This is another thing we are going to review. We are going to speak with the promoters there, as well as the German federation, to see what we have done wrong and what we can do differently. One of the aims is the pricing because we thought we did our benchmarking for thinking what is the best price for having full attendance. Not having a full attendance, which is our main goal, is something that we need to review again.
UBITENNIS: You have spoken a lot about reviewing certain aspects of the competition. What exactly is the review process?
ROJAS: It’s a combination of three parties – ITF, Kosmos and the host cities. We have worked really hard together. Sometimes we have different views on the organisation and operations, as well as the pricing and everything. But we will sit down together at the end of the Davis Cup and see what we can do.
UBITENNIS: One of Kosmos’ aims is to market the Davis Cup to the world. So when do you think ties will start to be held outside of Europe?
ROJAS: We have another year in Malaga, we have many years with different promoters and federations for the group stages in Europe. It all depends on who will be classified (qualified) for the next group stages.
It could happen that one of our promoters for the next five years is not from a European federation and their (national) team has not qualified. We will need to find other places if that happens if we can not give them a wildcard etc.
So it can happen at any time (moving ties outside of Europe). During the next five years, we could go to another continent. The beauty of this change we did last year is that playing in week 37 after the US Open, as well as going into the Asian swing, opens the door for us to be everywhere.
With the Davis Cup Finals, we still have another year in Malaga. With this calendar we agreed with the ITF and ATP, we have the freedom to go anywhere. You can stay in the Americas after the US Open or you can go back to Europe or even somewhere in Asia. This is another reason why we changed the format to have this door open.
UBITENNIS: There have been reports about staging events in The Middle East in the past. Is that still on the cards?
ROJAS: It’s quite public that we were having conversations to host the finals in the Middle East. It’s an option as well. We are not having any active conversations now, we are waiting for the end of this year. At the finals, we are inviting a lot of potential cities, countries, promoters and governments to come to discuss what is next from 2023 onwards.
The calendar now allows us to go everywhere. It’s true that the ATP Finals will happen in Europe for a few years and it is always better to stay as close as possible to the ATP Finals. But the Middle East is always an option. The process is very open right now and finding the next host cities for the finals will start next year.
If one of the host cities doesn’t qualify, then we will need to find a replacement for the group stages, as well.
UBITENNIS: Kosmos is focused on the Davis Cup but do you have any ambitions to expand elsewhere in tennis?
ROJAS: Currently, we organize the Davis Cup and we also have a management company which manages a few players. At the moment we are going to keep doing these two businesses. We expect to grow quite a lot if possible in the management business. We have our eyes open for opportunities but at the moment we are going to stay as we are. But as a group Kosmos always have their eyes open to see opportunities. In the last few months, we have not been discussing or starting any opportunities but you never know.
Could Regional Groups Boost Davis Cup’s Appeal?
Home-and-away ties are charming, but may be complicated and expensive. Round-robin groups are efficient, but may lack atmosphere. A possible solution for Davis Cup to have the cake and eat it, too
The Australian Open ended barely a week ago and tennis has celebrated another milestone of its ever-grueling calendar. The past weekend saw Davis Cup select the 16 teams for the final stage of the competition through the Qualifiers that took place across continents and time zones.
We gave an account of the results of these 12 ties, some of which ended in a nailbiter, over the course of the past few days. Here, however, we want to stress once again how this highly criticized event, profoundly changed in its formula by the “Kosmos revolution”, still manages to generate unique emotions in its actors despite the lack of some components that had accompanied its history for over a century.
The tears of Nicolas Massu, captain of the Chilean national team, after the victory of the decisive match by Alejandro Tabilo over Peruvian Ignacio Buse summarise what Davis Cup means in that country, in which there are entire areas devastated by fires and whose populations were mentioned by the former Olympic gold medalist: “This victory is for those who are going through a difficult time – said Massu in front of the packed stands of the Estadio Nacional in Santiago even though it was already past midnight – in the hope that it can bring them at least a little happiness.”
The tie between Chile and Peru, won 3-2 by the hosts, reminded everyone, in case it was needed, of the charm of the “home and away” component of the Davis Cup, that is when one of the teams hosts the opponent on their own turf. But he wasn’t the only one: the tie decided in the third set tie-break in the deciding singles between Argentina and Kazakhstan, played on clay in Rosario, in which Sebastian Baez angrily snatched the last four points against Dmitry Popko, as the light was fading in the Argentine summer evening, provided a moment of great emotional intensity.
And it is worth noting that nothing has been taken away from the drama of these matches by the distance of the two sets out of three of all the matches: the “best of five” would have lengthened the matches and made some of these clashes as epic as perhaps impossible to follow by a television audience that cannot have entire days available (and it would have been three days instead of two) to follow Davis Cup matches.
This year the ITF has granted greater flexibility on the scheduling of matches: when this new formula debuted, the “home and away” ties had to be played on Friday and Saturday, to leave Sunday as a travel day for players who had to reach the venue of the next tournament. However, we have now seen different variations, with some host countries deciding to play on Saturday and Sunday to maximize the attendance of the crowd. The match between Ukraine and the USA even took place on Thursday and Friday in Vilnius, Lithuania, to facilitate the return of American players to Dallas, home of the next ATP tournament.
This Davis Cup formula is not perfect, this has been clear for quite some time. And the ITF, now back in control of the event after the failure of the Kosmos experiment, is going ahead in a succession of trials and errors trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, or rather safeguarding what good things the old Davis Cup formula still had by mixing them with the new element of the round-robin groups which significantly simplifies players’ lives, makes the competition logistically more predictable and, most importantly, limits the total cost of the competition.
The solution with the four groups in September and the knockout finals in November seems promising, but there are still too many matches played in front of half-empty arenas populated by only a few hundred fans. The groupings in a single venue, if on the one hand allow for more efficient logistical planning and limit unexpected changes of surface for the players, on the other hand in some cases remove the crowd factor which has very often been the essence of historic Davis Cup matches. One of the pillars of Kosmos’ vision, the ”World Cup of Tennis”, immediately proved to be an unattainable chimera, and that’s where Kosmos’ entire business plan started to crumble. Expecting tennis to have a sufficient number of fans willing to travel across the world to follow their national team, and do so every year, has proven to be completely unrealistic.
It is necessary to find corrective measures to bring the atmosphere of “home and away” ties to the arenas of round-robin groups. And one of these corrective measures could be to group the teams taking into consideration some geographic criteria. Up to this moment all the round-robin groups of the “new Davis Cup” have been played in Europe: many of the top players are European, most of the teams competing are European, and therefore it was a quite logical consequence. But if we look at the list of the 16 teams qualified for the September 2024 groups, we will notice that there are five teams from the American continent: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and the USA.
If it were possible to organize a grouping with four of these national teams in North America, Davis Cup would benefit immensely: a week-long event in a large arena in Canada or the USA, in a city with a strong immigrant component in which each of the South American national teams could count on a base of “local” fans, with the strong historical rivalries of these national teams (for example Canada vs USA, Argentina vs Brazil, Argentina vs Chile just to name a few) creating an incandescent atmosphere in the stands.
American players should not travel to Europe after the US Open and before the Asian swing, at that time NBA basketball and NHL hockey have not yet started, so it should not be difficult to find the availability of one of the iconic arenas in the United States or Canada. Furthermore, in this way, television broadcasters would also benefit as they would have some matches staggered by time zone instead of having four events almost all at the same time in Europe. Not to mention that American broadcasters would be able to show the ties of their own teams at more comfortable times, rather than early in the morning.
If we think about it, even American professional leagues such as the NBA and the NHL have created “divisions”, sub-groupings that require some teams to face each other more often than others, which not only limits the travel days in the very busy calendars of professional leagues but they are also designed to fuel historic rivalries in order to create an ever-increasing number of matches that can ignite the interest of fans.
The Davis Cup needs to find a similar mechanism to ensure that fewer and fewer aseptic matches are played in the echoing void of a deserted arena. In a few weeks the draw will decide the four September groups, when at least two of the three venues seem more or less safe (Bologna, Valencia and probably one in the United Kingdom). Last year the fourth venue for the September groups was Split, in Croatia, but this year Croatia will not take part in the Final stage after the defeat at home against Belgium last weekend. It will be unlikely that the ballot box will deliver an “entirely American group, but for the Davis Cup and for tennis it would be a godsend. Let’s hope the ITF can spot this enormous opportunity and acts accordingly.
Novak Djokovic Refuses To Blame Fatigue For Davis Cup Defeat
Novak Djokovic says his defeat in the Davis Cup on Saturday was a ‘huge disappointment’ but he isn’t taking any credit away from the performance of his opponents.
The 24-time major winner was on the verge of taking Serbia into the final of the competition. Taking to the court after Miomir Kecmanović beat Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic knew that beating Jannik Sinner would secure his team an unassabile lead. Against the world No.4, he had a 5-4 lead in the deciding set with three consecutive match points at his disposal. However, Djokovic was unable to convert any of them and ended up losing 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
Then in the deciding doubles match, Djokovic and Kecmanovic lost 6-3, 6-4, to Sinner and Musetti. Resulting in Italy progressing to their first title tie in the competition since 1998.
“Congratulations to Italy for qualifying for the finals,” Djokovic said afterward. “They deserved it. They played really well, particularly Jannik, in singles against me and then doubles, as well. He barely missed a ball the entire match.
“For me personally it’s a huge disappointment, because I take the responsibility, obviously having three match points, being so close to winning it. It’s unfortunate really. This is sport. When you lose for your country, the bitter feeling is even greater.”
It is only the fourth time in Djokovic’s career that he has suffered a loss after having match point opportunities. It is also the first time in his career he has been beaten by the same player (Sinner) multiple times in the Davis Cup.
The defeat is a bitter end to what has been a highly successful season for Djokovic who has won three out of the four Grand Slam events held in 2023. Last week he beat Sinner to win his 98th Tour title at the ATP Finals in Turin. To put that tally into context, only Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors have won more ATP trophies than him.
When asked if end-of-season fatigue played a role in his latest performance, Djokovic refused to find excuses. Coming into this weekend, he had won 21 consecutive matches in the Davis Cup.
“I don’t want to talk about it because it’s going to sound like an excuse,” he said.
“Obviously this is a tough one to swallow. I was really trying to hype myself and encourage myself for this week.
“Throughout the entire season, my thoughts were this week with my Davis Cup team. I tried to contribute. I did in the first tie, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
As Djokovic begins his off-season, Italy will face Australia for the Davis Cup title on Sunday. It will be the first meeting between the two countries in the event since 1993. If Italy wins, it will be only the second time they have claimed the trophy after 1976.
Novak Djokovic At Odds With British Captain Smith Over Behaviour Of Davis Cup Crowd
Novak Djokovic’s comment that it is normal for fans to ‘step over the line’ during Davis Cup ties has been disputed by British team captain Leon Smith who argues that the highly animated atmosphere is a positive.
The world No.1 clashed with a group of British fans during his country’s quarter-finals win. Just moments after beating Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, to seal an unassailable 2-0 lead for Serbia, Djokovic was frustrated with fans during his on-court interview. Whilst speaking, he had to contend with a group of fans deliberately beating their drums.
“Learn how to respect players, learn how to behave yourself,” the 24-time Grand Slam winner responded to those drumming before adding, “No, you shut up, you be quiet”.
During the match, Djokovic also expressed his displeasure with some of the crowd by cupping his ear and blowing kisses after winning the first set. The tie featured an estimated 5000 British fans in attendance at the event which is being staged in Malaga, Spain.
Speaking during his press conference, Djokovic said he felt that there was ‘disrespect’ from some of those in the stands throughout his match but acknowledged that this was not unusual in the competition. Although he believes the way he reacted was justified.
“In the Davis Cup, it’s normal that sometimes fans step over the line but in the heat of the moment, you react too. You in a way show that you don’t allow this kind of behavior.” He said.
“They (the crowd) can do whatever they want but I’m going to respond to that. That’s what happened.’
“I was trying to talk and they were purposely starting to play the drums so that I don’t talk and they were trying to annoy me the entire match.”
Reacting to the incident, British captain Smith has dismissed a suggestion that there should be a review into the policy on having drums during matches when asked if he thinks more should be done to show respect to players whilst they are playing. The former coach of Andy Murray has been in charge of his country’s team for more than a decade and oversaw their run to the title in 2015.
“The best ones are the noisy ones. When it’s flat and dead and no one’s clapping, no music, it’s pretty boring.” Said Smith.
“That’s one of the things that’s good about Davis Cup and the team competition that actually you’re kind of meant to make noise. And there is always, whether there is a bit that goes over, comments, I could hear a couple. I don’t think it’s that bad.”
“I would hate to see it quietening down because there’s enough quiet tennis as it is. If anything, that atmosphere is good for us.”
In the competition itself, Serbia is set to play Italy in the semi-finals where Djokovic could continue his rivalry with Jannik Sinner. The two clashed twice at last week’s ATP Finals with Sinner winning their group match before Djokovic triumphed in straight sets in the final.
“We’re kind of developing a nice rivalry lately. I have tons of respect for him.” Djokovic said of the world No.4.
“He’s been playing arguably the tennis of his life. I saw a little bit of singles and doubles that he won. He really played on a high level. I could see that he was very pumped to play for his nation.’
“I know that he’s confident and playing some of the best tennis that we saw him ever play. But I’m not playing bad myself. So it’s going to be a great match.”
Serbia’s semi-final clash with Italy will take place on Saturday.
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