Like it or not, the Davis Cup has changed – whether it has changed for the better, only time will tell but the traditionalists amongst us, certainly don’t believe it carries the ethos created over a century with the original concept.
We'll be leaving behind a legacy in all four cities that have the group stage as well as the preferred city that will have the Finals. There are many outstanding reasons that we believe this preferred host is where we will go. In due course, we'll make an announcement David Haggerty
During that time there have been changes, certainly, and many of those changes were to accommodate the growing success of the competition and the number of nations which wanted to participate.
Having drastically changed the format of the competition in 2019, thanks to the $3billion, 25-year inducement from Kosmos, led by Gerard Pique of Barcelona football fame, the ITF (International Tennis Federation) has announced that following completion of this year’ competition, won by the Russian Tennis Federation last Sunday, there will be some major tweaks to the format for next year.
There were problems with the original Kosmos concept played over one week in one city (Madrid) in 2019 and these were addressed for 2021 – the competition was cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. The event was extended to 11 days with the group stages played in three different cities, Madrid, Innsbruk and Turin., with the knockout element played out in Madrid.
That didn’t completely correct all the original glitches so now the ITF have announced that for 2022 there will be more host cities and fewer nations (16 rather than 18) in an attempt to increase fan engagement and keep the revamped team event sustainable.
Four cities will now host the group stages with another venue – yet to be confirmed, but it is heavily rumoured that it will more than likely be Abdu Dhabi! – hosting the Finals.
Each city will host matches from one of the four-team groups, with the top two teams advancing to the knockout stage.
This year, the group winners in the six groups, plus the top two second-place finishers, progressed to the last eight.
The changes being made by the organisers continue to address the scheduling challenges that marred the first edition two years ago.
“We are constantly thinking of how to improve, adjust for the future and looking to the edition of 2022,” Kosmos CEO Enric Rojas said. “We are going to try again to do another adjustment, a bit of an evolution, for having four different cities hosting the group stage, and then going to a neutral city for playing the final part of the competition.
“We think that, with that small adjustment and evolution, we are going to have even more fan engagement and more people in the arenas because of having four cities with extra home interest,” he added. “It’s going to give us, in our view, the final piece of becoming a real successful event and the real ‘World Cup of Tennis’.”
David Haggert, the ITF president, would not confirm that Abu Dhabi was in the running but simply said: “We have a preferred city that has a vision that we have, that we share together, for Davis Cup, continuing to build on that competition.”
“That’s one of the main ingredients,” he continued. “We’ll be leaving behind a legacy in all four cities that have the group stage as well as the preferred city that will have the Finals. There are many outstanding reasons that we believe this preferred host is where we will go. In due course, we’ll make an announcement.”
Some players and team captains have expressed concerns with Abu Dhabi and having to travel there so late in the season.
“I have the feeling after speaking to many players and captains and federations, that the noise that we are hearing is because of Abu Dhabi or because (of) other things, that that noise will happen always irrespective of whatever you do,” Rojas said.
A bidding process will begin in January for all cities interested in becoming hosts and those interested will have six weeks to make their cases with a final decision expected by mid-March. Should the chosen city’s DC team fail to qualify, then a backup city will be brought in for a team who has qualified.
Britain and Serbia, thanks to the two wildcards available to the organisers, have already been granted places in the next years draw with this year’s four semi-finalists, so the possibility of the LTA bidding to be one of the host cities, must be on the cards.
Every effort is being made to make the Davis Cup Finals acceptable and, over time, people will forget what it used to be like and the attraction of the original model.
Australia has a great tradition in Davis Cup competition and Lleyton Hewitt remains a strong supporter of the event but on the possibility that Abu Dhabi might host the finals for the next five years, he becomes quite vocal.
“I’ve only heard a rumour but I think it’s ridiculous, it’s not what Davis Cup is about,” Hewitt, currently captain of the Aussies, said following his team’s 3-0 loss to Croatia at this year’s event.
“The Davis Cup was held in the highest regard, up there with the pinnacle of our sport in tennis – with matches played over five sets.
“We threw that out the door and then we’ve thrown the home and away out the door as well. Playing a qualifying tie here or there, best of three sets (in the recent revamped format), is not the same as having home and away, main draw matches over the year.
“So if they’re going and selling the soul of the Davis Cup to the Middle East for another five years, I think it’s ridiculous – and they’re really killing the competition.
“I’ve been pretty vocal about the whole thing for the last four or five years now. This is a wonderful stadium here tonight (in Turin), but it’s not a massive crowd, it’s not what Davis Cup is about.
“Some of my greatest memories were playing in Davis Cup semis or finals in front of packed houses and it didn’t matter if it was in Australia or away, the atmosphere was incredible.
“We sit back, me and Tony Roche and tell these young guys stories about when we played in those situations. I’m just really disappointed now. Guys like Alex (de Minaur) would do anything to be in that situation to play in those big matches.
“I know what (the old Davis Cup) meant to the top guys — it meant the world. There is something really special about this competition.”
Todd Woodbridge, the former doubles world No. 1 and possibly one of the most successful doubles players ever, is equally adamant in his condemnation of the changes implemented in 2019.
“As Lleyton [Hewitt] said this week, they sold their soul,” Woodbridge said on 2GB – Sydney Talk Radio. “There is no history involved in it, there is nothing that any of us … grew up and were a part of.
“If you wreck the most historic competition in the game, you probably need to resign and move on.”
In contrast, Daniil Medvedev who led the Russian Tennis Federation to the title this year, not surprisingly, doesn’t believe the ethos of the competition has changed.
“It’s still Davis Cup,” he said. “We still see Novak playing (and) Rafa won it last time. No matter the format, the best players in the world (are) happy to represent their country.”
But there is one who is holding out against it, Alexander Zverev, who, having declared he wants to win the Davis Cup, is now refusing to play in it in protest at the new format.
But at the end of the day it will be the tennis fans who will decide whether the changes are a success and it is difficult to believe they won’t as they haven’t experienced – and will never experience – a full blown Davis Cup tie with five, five set rubbers, played over three days.
For Haggerty and the ITF ‘the economic sustainability of the competition’ is paramount so in the end, it’s really all about the money.
And will the fans travel to Abu Dhabi?