EXCLUSIVE: Davis Cup Chiefs Want To Make Event As Prominent As A Grand Slam - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Davis Cup Chiefs Want To Make Event As Prominent As A Grand Slam

 With the Davis Cup about to kick off, Enric Rojas, CEO of Kosmos unveils his ambitions in an exclusive interview with Ubitennis

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By Federico Bertelli 

The tennis season is blasting its last fireworks. After the Next Gen Finals, the ATP finals in Turin have been grabbing the headlines. However, the focus switches to the Final 8 of Davis Cup which will be starting on November 22nd in Malaga. 

Just a few months ago Ubitennis had a chat with Alberto Costa, Tournament Director of the Davis Cup. Now, we have had an exclusive interview with Enric Rojas, CEO of Kosmos Tennis. The Organization was founded by Gerard Piqué who acquired Davis Cup rights from the ITF in 2018. We look into the present and future perspectives of the Davis Cup, as well as the newly created partnership between ATP, ITF and Kosmos.

UBITENNIS: First of all, I would like to talk about this news that quite caught everyone by surprise, the partnership between Kosmos, ITF and ATP. What are the scopes, the range and the time horizon of this collaboration?

ROJAS: We have been working on this agreement for several months. It’s going to unite the different actors and establish some cornerstones we will be able to build on. First of all, the fact that the ATP has consolidated and protected the weeks dedicated to Davis Cup (at the beginning of February, mid-September and at the end of November). A strategy that has been agreed on listening to the players as well. 

Starting from 2019 the format has undergone several changes to try not to disrupt the plans of the players and to reach the maximum coverage and attendance in the various rounds. Players can plan their season already at the beginning of the year and there are management and promotional synergies that we want to exploit. For example, Kosmos now sells the rights to Davis and ATP does the same with the Finals and the various Masters 1000, so we are trying to figure out the best way we can work together. Personally, I believe that there are certainly possible developments. Important aspects to be taken into account are betting and data as well. We definitely want to talk to ATP and IMG to see which strategies are to be implemented and with whom we are going to implement the vision we will define.

With regard to the OTT (an acronym that stands for over-the-top and that indicates streaming services via IP released from traditional streaming platforms, such as the well-known DAZN, Ed.) it is certainly something we have in mind, but not in the medium term. In some territories, we may think, in the more distant future, about a coexistence between traditional media and direct distribution. But in any case, we are not worried because we do not have uncovered markets and the coverage of the event is already global. At the organizational level, partnering with ATP has meant that on the main board the 6 seats are divided equally: 2 ATP, 2 Kosmos and 2 ITF. However, as we continue with the collaboration, other specific aspects will also be defined. ITF and Kosmos already had a consolidated system, in which we included ATP. The ATP will have its say in many dossiers: for example, if there are calendar changes or different options on the Final 8, the ATP and its players will be able to express their views. Kosmos will maintain leadership on operational and commercial issues.

UBITENNIS: If I understand correctly then the choice of the new venue for the Final 8 of Davis (Malaga has been selected to host the 2023 and 2024 editions) will be shared between the various places and could be in Europe or elsewhere.

ROJAS: Yes, that’s right. At the beginning of 2023, we will start the selection process and it will be open to anyone, so we hope to have as many options as possible to evaluate. Many elements will be involved: the commercial aspect, a sports perspective… and a very important element will be where the Finals will be played. Holding Davis Cup Final 8 in a place close to where the ATP Finals are played is obviously a preferential element.

UBITENNIS: In terms of the impact of the event and attractiveness of rights, how do you consider yourself today? At the level of an ATP Masters 1000? And compared to a Slam how do you position yourself? For instance, the Australian Open sold the rights of the event to Down Under broadcasters alone for about $50 million.

ROJAS: The data are correct; our ambition is to position ourselves approximately at the level of a Grand Slam. The reality, however, is that from all points of view (viewers, sponsors, television rights …) we are around the level of an ATP Masters 1000. As a starting point, it is already a good result from our point of view, but our long-term ambition is to rise even higher.

 In our business plan, the goal is sooner or later to reach the prestige of a Slam. And it is essential that the event has the typical Davis Cup atmosphere. I’ll give you some numbers: the first match of the Final 8, Australia Netherlands will have a 70/75% full stadium (which means 6000 spectators: in 2019 in Madrid it was difficult to go beyond 3000 spectators when the Spanish team wasn’t playing). And for a great match like Italy vs USA, which unfortunately is played at 10 am on a weekday, we expect to have at least 7000 spectators, and there will be less than 20% of unsold tickets. Having two months to promote the event has been crucial.

UBITENNIS: Let’s move on to the sports aspects: Davis Cup is scheduled after the US Open and after the indoor tournaments at the end of the season. Does this mean that the September round and the November Finals will always be played on fast surfaces and likely indoors? Is the idea that there could be Davis Finals on clay or grass to be discarded?

ROJAS: This new agreement and calendar allow to have group stages and Finals practically anywhere in the world; in September every option is basically possible: North America after the US Open, Asia before the swing in the East which sooner or later, once COVID is over, will be resumed, or go to Europe where the indoor season begins. For the moment, the group stages and the Final 8 are to be played in the same conditions and on the same surface. We are not obliged to, but our idea is that everything ought to be homogeneous, to provide homogeneous logistics (between the various group stages in September) and scheduling (between the group stage in September and the Final 8 in November). In addition, playing indoors is simpler in terms of organization as it becomes possible to play at any latitude, without hindrance. Moreover, considering that the ATP Finals have been consolidated as an indoor event for several years, maintaining a consistency between Finals and Davis Cup is also an advantage for players, who are known to suffer from surface changes, both technically and physically. To sum up, currently, we have two fixed points: the same surface both for the September group stage and for the Final 8 in November, in indoor conditions. In order not to change the cards on the table with the ATP Finals.

UBITENNIS: Which is the process of deciding the surface? In a recent post-match interview in Vienna Taylor Fritz had complained about the condition of Davis Cup courts, which despite being indoor was very slow. Did you make this choice especially to compensate for the fact that indoor conditions are faster?

ROJAS: No, we have not had this kind of approach. It is true that there have been some comments in this sense, on the courts being slow, but it was not specifically planned. We tried to maintain similar conditions to those in Malaga and Madrid even in September (although there will inevitably be differences since Madrid is at a high altitude whereas Malaga is at sea level, with the sports hall a few hundred meters from the beach, with greater humidity, Ed). The combination of courts and balls impacts the conditions too.

UBITENNIS: We have taken a look to the future: but to conclude, what’s your opinion about this 2022 edition that has seen important innovations? Are you satisfied with how it has gone so far?

ROJAS: Definitely: in the group stage in September we had a total turnout of over 110,000 spectators in the 4 cities, an excellent result; already higher than the total turnout of the Final 8 of 2019 and 2021. And considering how the tickets for the Final 8 are selling, we believe that we can reach a total of over 170,000 total spectators. In the group stage, of course, having a team playing at home is a driving factor. However, this aspect is proving to be less relevant for the Final 8, which means that the event is starting to take off. We have seen from the sales data that among ticket buyers the Dutch are in the lead, followed by Italians and British (obviously many had bet in advance on the qualification of Norrie and his teammates).

Another relevant figure will be that of the television and social media audience after Malaga, but if we compare the 2022 group stage with 2021, we have doubled the attendance, this means that we are heading in the right direction ; I can also give you a further preview: in the week of Malaga, we are going to have a meeting between Kosmos and the federations that organized the group stages to understand what we can improve to generate interest between September and December. Speaking of federations, Italy and Holland gave us a big hand by buying ticket packages for their members and it was a consistent support in terms of sales. Going into detail, to this day more than 55% of tickets have been sold to fans who are outside the Malaga region (outside Andalucia) and 21% will come from outside Spain, another sign that makes us believe that we are on the right track towards a renewed interest of the public.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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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

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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.

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Novak Djokovic Refuses To Blame Fatigue For Davis Cup Defeat

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Novak Djokovic at the 2023 Davis Cup Finals in Malaga (photo by Marta Magni)

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. 

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Novak Djokovic At Odds With British Captain Smith Over Behaviour Of Davis Cup Crowd

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Novak Djokovic practicing at the 2023 Davis Cup finals (photo by Marta Magni)

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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