If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so the saying goes, and in tennis that sentiment was never more apt than right now, for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is currently considering radical changes to the Davis Cup, one of the world’s most revered international team competitions. Matches could be reduced from the best-of-five to the best-of-three sets, and ties from three days to two. In addition, the ITF is keen for would-be host cities to submit bids to stage the Davis Cup final each year, which would ruin the atmosphere of one of the game’s showpiece events.
Once the historic link with the all-time greats is broken it can never be restored, and the appeal of the Davis Cup will forever be diminished. Richard Jones
During its current strategic planning round the ITF is looking at possible changes to both its international team competitions, the Davis Cup and the women’s equivalent, the Fed Cup. The world governing body is trying to address concerns about the crowded tournament calendar and player availability, and to further promote the worldwide development of the game. It is entirely appropriate for the ITF to do this, for a successful sport can never stand still, but some of the proposed changes pose a grave threat to the future prosperity of the Davis Cup.
BEST OF FIVE SET MATCHES
Davis Cup singles matches played over five sets are every bit as intense as those at Wimbledon, Roland Garros, Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park; sometimes more so. This can be tough on the players, but the rewards are high. Many, including our own James Ward, have become national sporting heroes by winning a marathon five-set epic to clinch a Davis Cup tie for their country. The five-set format is the true test in men’s tennis, and for more than a century the great champions have embraced it. The ITF’s proposed reduction to best-of-three set matches would take away much of the drama and with it the Davis Cup’s status alongside the Grand Slam events, making it just another tournament in a crowded tennis calendar. It would no longer be the event won proudly by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and most recently Andy Murray; nor that which captivated John McEnroe, Rod Laver, Fred Perry and Jean Borotra in years gone by. Once the historic link with the all-time greats is broken it can never be restored, and the appeal of the Davis Cup will forever be diminished.
TWO-DAY DAVIS CUP TIES
The ITF is also looking at whether Davis Cup ties should continue to be staged over three days, as has been the case for more than a century. The three-day format has been very successful, and a change would almost certainly mean the end of Saturday as the day set aside for the doubles rubber. Anyone who has been to a Davis Cup tie will tell you just how special the Saturday is, with just the one doubles match which will go a long way to determining the eventual outcome of the tie. For most doubles teams it is the only time in the year when they play before a full house, and there can be no doubt that the Davis Cup has been a major factor in keeping the public interested in the professional doubles game.
CITIES BIDDING TO HOST THE DAVIS CUP FINAL
In December 2016 the ITF will invite cities and national federations to express interest in hosting future Davis Cup finals. ITF President David Haggerty has said A fixed final for Davis Cup by BNP Paribas will replicate the approach, seen in many other sports, for the tennis season’s finale that players, fans, partners and broadcasters can better plan for.
Whilst it is true that there would be benefits for sponsors and broadcasters in having more planning time, this proposal would be of little benefit to players and would clearly be to the detriment of fans. Take last year’s Davis Cup competition, for example, where the four semi-finalists were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, and Great