Davis Cup takes first step into uncertain future
Paris (AFP) – The Davis Cup holds its qualifiers this week for the first edition of the competition since the International Tennis Federation ended the controversial partnership with investors Kosmos.
The ITF last month ended its agreement with the Kosmos group, headed by former Spanish international footballer Gerard Pique, less than five years after a 25-year deal was signed.
The revamped Davis Cup, first played in 1900, has attracted widespread criticism for its new format which broke away from its traditional system of home and away ties, favouring city-based events instead.
Despite the cutting of ties with Kosmos, the team event will continue with the new format this year.
Teams including Britain, Serbia, Switzerland and Argentina, will play qualifying ties hoping to reach the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, scheduled for September.
The original contract with Kosmos, which is yet to pay players prize money for last year’s Davis Cup, was worth $3 billion.
“We all knew it was going to happen,” former France captain Arnaud Clement told AFP of the end of the deal.
“We would have liked to be wrong so that the Davis Cup did not die, but the starting ingredients were not the right ones.”
British player Dan Evans also believed it was never likely to last.
“It was a matter of time, wasn’t it? We were getting paid a little too much for not a lot, I guess. But you get it while you can,” he told The Guardian newspaper last month.
Croatia won the last Davis Cup to be held with the traditional knockout ties, decided over five rubbers, played as best-of-five-set matches.
‘Don’t think it needed changing’
Leading players had started to play in the tournament less frequently, although Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all lifted the trophy.
But the change to a World Cup-style format did not have the desired effect of bigger audiences and more stars competing.
Nadal helped Spain to victory in the inaugural Davis Cup Finals four years ago but has not featured since due to injuries.
Djokovic also skipped the event last year.
“We changed it when I don’t think it necessarily needed the whole format changing,” added Evans, who is in the British team to take on Colombia in Cota this weekend.
“There’s people out there who are pumped to play three out of five (sets) for three days and win the tournament and I’d still be happy to do that.”
Last year’s group stage matches were sparsely attended and late-night finishes brought back common complaints about scheduling.
The row with Kosmos is still simmering, after Pique’s group took the dispute to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, citing an “unjustified termination” of its contract with the ITF.
The Davis Cup can still count on support from elsewhere in the sport, though, as organisers look to find a solution for the future.
“The Grand Slam tournaments are united in their support of the Davis Cup competition,” the four Grand Slam events said in a statement last week.
The ITF will be hoping that on-court action can take the spotlight this week as the countries battle for the last 12 tickets to the finals.
Holders Canada, France, Italy and Spain have all already secured their places by reaching the 2022 semi-finals.
Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament for Switzerland in its old format alongside Federer in 2014, is returning to the tournament against Germany.
“I always said I would like to play once again for my country in (the) Davis Cup and that I am available to play if I can bring support to the team,” said the 37-year-old, who faces Alexander Zverev on Friday.