The ITF's plans for a revamped Davis Cup competition are drawing mixed reactions from players and officials, who are either criticizing or backing the changes.
The ITF's board has approved plans for a one-week competition played between 18 nations at a neutral location, with ties consisting of two singles and one doubles. It is accompanied by an investment of more than a hundred million dollars annually by a group that includes Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique, which would contribute to prize money of more than $20 million and grassroots funding. The changes would require a two-thirds vote from member federations at the organization's annual meeting.
Under its current structure, Davis Cup is played for four weeks during a season, with home and away ties composed of four singles and one doubles. All matches in World Group competition are best of five sets.
Players and former players in France and Australia have been vocal in criticizing such changes.
Former Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge described the move as throwing a "bomb into the tennis landscape," adding, "I’m at the coalface and this is the first time I’ve heard about it."
Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt tweeted a newspaper article expressing anger at the ITF's announcement, which also included Pat Cash's expletive-laden reaction. Former French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo also added her own expletive and agreement.
While former Australian captain Pat Rafter did note problems with the current structure of Davis Cup, another former captain John Fitzgerald said the scheduling would not help Australian tournaments.
Neither the Australian nor the French federation chiefs have officially commented, though Bernard Giudicelli of the FFT is on the ITF board and would have voted for the changes.
French Davis Cup captain Yannick Noah, who led the country to Davis Cup victory in 2017, tweeted that the competition was finished.
La fin de La coupe Davis. Quelle tristesse. Ils ont vendu l'âme d'une épreuve historique. Sorry mister Davis. #CoupeDavis— Yannick Noah (@NoahYannick) February 27, 2018
(Translation: The end of the Davis Cup. How sad. They sold the soul of a historical ordeal. Sorry, Mr. Davis)
Lucas Pouille, a member of the winning French team, was equally vehement.
"They just picked the idea of the ATP of making the World Team Cup again, because it's exactly the same. It's during one week, a lot of teams, some money. That's why they want to do it," he said at Dubai. "But obviously they cannot call it a Davis Cup any more—you're when not playing at home, or in the country against who you're playing.
"It's not going to be the same atmosphere any more. I think it's a very bad idea for the Davis Cup."
The Frenchman subsequently added that his teammates agreed with him, while acknowledging that he would not be opposed to all changes to the competition. Julien Benneteau, Nicolas Mahut and other players have also criticized the recent moves.
"I think they think the same as me, like I think a lot of players," Pouille said. "I did not say it was not good for tennis, I just say it's not good for Davis Cup. It's a particular competition. I think we just need to find another way to make it better."
Pouille also slammed the suggestion that the changes would increase declining top player participation, noting that putting the event during the final week of the season would reduce time off for players. And, he added, getting “Roger and Rafa” to play should not be the biggest consideration of the organizers.
Neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal, like other top players, have played regularly in recent years.
Nadal was cautiously positive about the changes, though he said he would like the location of the event to be varied.
"It is a good initiative that can work," Nadal said at Acapulco. "It is obvious that when something does not work perfectly, you have to look for new solutions, and this has been going on for a number of years."
Federer, who is involved in running another recently started team competition, the Laver Cup, did not come down on one side or the other.
"I'm surprised this is happening, because I do not know another Davis Cup other than [what it is now]," he was quoted as saying at the Laureus Awards, adding that he was hearing "extremely positive and extremely negative" reactions.
Their federations appear to have slightly different positions. The vice-president of the Spanish Royal Federation de Tenis, Tomas Carbonell, told El Mundo, "It's good to have an important group that wants to put a lot of money into tennis, but it is also important to the point of view of the federations. The Cup is an essential part of a federation's earnings, and I question whether this will attract players. For a country, it is important to attract 10,000 people, as we intend for Valencia [the quarterfinal] to allow people to see their idols, and five-set matches show tennis on a large scale."
Former captain Alex Corretja told AS, "It has pros and cons, surely more pros for the players and the ITF—if they were not being compensated financially, they would not do it. Finally, they have to explain it.
"The new competition provides more possibilities to the countries that have less of a bench [fewer players]."
And by contrast, Rene Stammbach, who is on the ITF board and chief of the tennis federation for Switzerland, emphatically backed the new plans. "I'm going to vote for the reform," he said, noting that the federation has had to spend five million Euros holding unprofitable Davis Cup ties. "There are just 4-5 countries for whom the Davis Cup is financially rewarding."
Novak Djokovic, who clarified that he was not involved with the group investing in the competition, said he was hugely in favor of the revamped competition—except for its position during the final week of the season.
"It is fantastic news," he told El Pais. "We all want to play for our country, but I have been saying for years that the current structure does not work.
"It will be more attract for the world of sport, for sponsors, for media, and for fans. The most attractive sports have this type of arrangement. And there would be more money for the federations."
Among the Belgians, David Goffin is in favor while Steve Darcis called it "a shame." Belgium's federation chief Andre Stein was initially critical but then took a more moderate position following a conversation with Goffin. "We will look for a way that our fans will still get to see their national team while allowing players to commit less time playing," he was quoted as saying. "We could also have other European allies for this alternative solution.
Stein added that the federation has also had unprofitable ties. "This [new] money should at least meet our costs. The ITF has said there is a lot of money but not what amount and for whom yet."
There were more concerns expressed about the removal of home and away ties from Britain's Davis Cup captain, who said a single location "works in other sports but it remains to be seen if it could work in Davis Cup."
There has been positive reaction from some American former players, with Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish tweeting in favor. Austria's Jurgen Melzer replied, saying he disagreed with Fish.
The American Davis Cup captain, Jim Courier, suggested extending it further. "The next step in my view to make this event all it could be would be including the Fed Cup in this tennis extravaganza," he told the New York Times.
But it has also found vocal opposition from the German tennis federation, with vice president Dirk Hordoff writing, "The German tennis federation was not consulted or involved in this concept and didn't agree to these changes. The biggest asset of the ITF, the Davis Cup, needs new structure, reforms, new rules... the ITF instead... is producing one damage after another to this event."
There was also the suggestion that the ITF president, David Haggerty, who has been driving the changes, could be forced from his position if they are not approved.
"I’m not worried about some of the personal comments you see and some of the questions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m doing this because I think it’s the right thing for tennis. Personally I’m not worried about whether this is a political risk or not," Haggerty told the Times of London. "Most of the top players have responded very positively that they will compete in it and like the concept. The thing I’ve always talked about is the need to have the top players playing more often."
There will next be meetings with ATP players to further explain the planned adjustments.
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