’They have just killed the Davis Cup’
THE Aussies are surprised. The Brits are skeptical. The French are downright angry.
"They have just killed the Davis Cup," French tennis player Nicolas Mahut said in reaction to bold plans to transform the 118-year-old competition into a one- week, 18-nation World Cup of Tennis.
The International Tennis Federation is trying to bring some glamor and relevance to the team event, as well as lure back top players who often choose to skip Davis Cup matches amid a crowded tennis calendar.
In this latest attempted revamp, the World Cup of Tennis would be played in one location over seven days in the traditional week of the Davis Cup final in November, rather than across four weekends in February, July, September, and November. There would be a total purse of $20 million.
"The essence of this historic competition is to play away or at home," Mahut, a member of France's Davis Cup-winning team last year, told French newspaper L'Equipe.
"I was the first to say we needed to reform it. But not to destroy it."
Proposals for the World Cup of Tennis have been devised in conjunction with investment group Kosmos, which was founded by Barcelona and Spain soccer player Gerard Pique.
The partnership is worth $3 billion over 25 years. Pique personally presented the proposal to the ITF board in Barcelona over the weekend, and ITF President David Haggerty said Pique has had a "positive" response from top players like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Those two players have yet to comment publicly on the plans, but second-ranked Rafael Nadal has been quoted as saying: "It's a good initiative and it could work."
Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia, said his organisation was "taken by surprise by the announcement."
"As one of the founding nations of Davis Cup, we have a lot of unanswered questions," Tiley said.
"Will this proposal effectively extend the season for a large section of the playing group? What are the players' thoughts generally? Does this ultimately end the 'home and away' nature of the current competition? There's just so much we don't know."
The ITF said the proposal, which was unanimously endorsed by its board, is "subject to further development" before it is submitted at the body's annual general meeting in Florida in August. It needs approval by a two-thirds majority.
Britain captain Leon Smith acknowledged that change was necessary to "ensure longevity and status" of the Davis Cup, which was established in 1900, and was glad to see the ITF looking at significant investment from other sources. He still had reservations, though.
"Of course one of the first things that came to mind is the loss of the home and away tie," Smith said.
"It works in other sports but remains to be seen if it could work in Davis Cup.
"For now we'll just have to keep an open mind as we start to learn more about this proposed new structure and whatever the outcome, I hope the Davis Cup remains the most important team event in world tennis."
This is Haggerty's second attempt at what is widely viewed as a necessary revamp of Davis Cup, with the ITF forced last year to shelve its initial proposal for a World Cup of Tennis in an effort to "build consensus" for the idea.