Next weekend will see the climax of the tennis reached when the Davis Cup final between France and Croatia will be played in Lille. It is a repeat of the football World Cup final, and whilst the indoor arena will not accommodate anything like the numbers who packed the Olympic Stadium in July, the fans who will pack in can be expected to be equally passionate.
For nearly 120 years, this most prestigious of all tennis team events has followed the same format, stretching over a year and with countries playing either at home or away, including the final. This year is no exception,but for one fact. It is the last of its kind.
Next year, it will be radically revamped into a week-long tournament featuring 16 nations which will be held in Madrid. There will be home and away ties in the first round, but, thereafter, the winners will advance straight to the final tournament.
Not everybody is a fan of the new format, which is backed by the investment group Kosmos, fronted by Barcelona footballer Gerard Piqué, for the amount of US $3 billion, with former Grand Slam winner and respected TV commentator Mats Wilander amongst its critics.
He argues that in changing the format, the Davis Cup is sacrificing something that made it special in the first place – the chance for the biggest stars to compete at home in front of passionate local fans.
Wilander believes that the Davis Cup is in danger of losing its identity, and is trying to compete with the ATP Cup, which will launch in January 2020, and feature 24 nations playing across three Australian cities.
Speaking at the ATP Finals in London, Wilander said:
“The Davis Cup should be home and away from the semi-finals as a minimum, I would say even the quarters, Roger Federer doesn’t want to play a first round perhaps in Kazakhstan. But a semi-final in Basel, in front of 20,000 Swiss fans?”
“Of course he will. It’s detrimental. That’s what the little kid with his mum and dad remembers. I bet 50 percent of the top 100 players remember watching (the) Davis Cup before they watched, maybe not Wimbledon, but certainly before the other Slams or ATP tournaments.”
He is not alone.
Novak Djokovic also supported the home and away format which, he reckoned was the reason it attracted players and fans alike to it.
Wilander also commented that “Davis Cup is not always convenient for the players”.
That may be the nub of the issue. Whilst no doubt the Davis Cup in its new format will be well supported financially, will players, already burdened by a heavy schedule at the end of the season, want to commit to what looks, from the outside, as just another tournament.
And what about the fans?
If Spain do well, then that is sure to get the crowd in, but, if it is Russia playing Belgium, or Great Britain playing the Czech Republic, who amongst the neutrals is going to care very much.
Whilst all tournaments have to evolve to stay with the times, is such a radical overhaul of the Davis Cup really needed? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.