Orlando | Majority of nations vote for Davis Cup change
This day will forever go down in history as the one that changed the Davis Cup forever.
After 118 years, the controversial proposals to revamp the Davis Cup and turn it into a season-ending 18-team event were backed by a majority of national tennis federations.
The first edition of the new event will be held in Madrid or Lille from 18-24 November, with the inaugural host city to be announced in the coming weeks.
The shake-up of the men’s team competition received 71.43 percent support from about 140 delegates at the ITF AGM in Orlando, well clear of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.
By voting in favour of these reforms, we will be able to work with Kosmos to realise the huge potential of the competition and elevate it to new standards. This new event will create a true festival of tennis and entertainment which will be more attractive to players, to fans, to sponsors and to broadcasters. David Haggerty
The ITF had outlined a 25-year, $3 billion [£2.15 billion] plan with Kosmos, an investment group founded by footballer Gerard Piqué, who skipped training to fly in from Spain for the vote, but the LTA opposed the changes raising concerns over the scheduling, financing and the division between member nations.
Perhaps, had the LTA spoken up sooner than the evening before the vote, more caution might have been exercised among the national associations, who clearly saw the merits of the enormous financial returns promised to them.
ITF President David Haggerty said: “I am delighted that the nations have today voted to secure the long-term status of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas.
“By voting in favour of these reforms, we will be able to work with Kosmos to realise the huge potential of the competition and elevate it to new standards.
“This new event will create a true festival of tennis and entertainment which will be more attractive to players, to fans, to sponsors and to broadcasters.
“In addition, the new revenues for nations that the event will generate will have a transformative effect on the development of tennis in all nations.
“Our mission is to ensure that this historic decision will benefit the next generation of players for decades to come.
“I would like to thank the nations for taking this historic decision and the ITF Board of Directors for their commitment and support.
“I would also like to thank Kosmos for their passion and partnership. I have no doubt that by working together we will ensure a brighter future for tennis all around the world.”
Also backing the reconstituted event is US billionaire Larry Ellison, who hopes his Indian Wells tennis facility would host the 2021 edition of the finals after the first two were played in Europe.
Gerard Piqué, President and Founder of Kosmos, said: “Today is a historic day and we are convinced that the agreement ratified by the nations certainly guarantees the future of the Davis Cup and the development of tennis at all levels.
“I would like to thank ITF President David Haggerty, the ITF Board of Directors and the entire team of ITF professionals for their work with Kosmos over the past few months and welcome a new stage in which we will continue to evolve together.
“I would also like to congratulate all those who, with their votes, have embraced this change and have seen the momentous decision that was in their hands.
“This is the beginning of a new stage that guarantees the pre-eminent and legitimate place that the Davis Cup should have as a competition for national teams while adapting to the demands of this professional sport at the highest level.
“It is a great honour for me to be part of this historic process of a sport that I am passionate about and, without a doubt, in both personal and professional terms this is one of the happiest days of my life.”
Kosmos is the company Piqué founded and chairs with the support of Hiroshi Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten, a Tokyo-based e-commerce company.
It is currently building a portfolio linked to sports, media and the entertainment industry by providing leadership strategies through different forms of content, platforms, technologies and geographic spaces.
The Davis Cup, founded in 1900, is one of the world’s largest international team competitions with 132 nations taking part in 2018.
Currently, 16 nations compete in the World Group, while the remaining countries are divided into three regional zones depending on their location.
It is played in February, April and September and November at home and away venues, with each World Group tie played over three days in a best-of-five tie of five-set matches.
Many top players, however, have skipped it in recent years to ease the load on their schedules.
The newly adopted format will create a November finals with 18 teams: 12 winners from 24-team home and away qualifying in February, the prior year’s four semi-finalists and two wild-card nations.
Round-robin groups of three will send six group winners and two runners-up into knockout round playoffs.
The finals will feature two singles matches and one doubles match each day, all cut down to best-of-three sets.
Haggerty said the arrangement would provide about $25 million annually for national tennis associations to invest in grassroots level support, with the United States, France and Spain among those thought to have supported the change.
Certainly the USTA was quick to react, issuing a statement following the vote in Orlando: “We are very pleased the ITF member nations voted to approve the Davis Cup proposal.
“The new format will project Davis Cup into the 21st century and elevate tennis’ premiere annual team competition to the heights it deserves.”
In addition to the LTA, opponents of the plan included Tennis Australia, with Aussie Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt calling it a “money grab” and too great a departure from the current format.
“Unfortunately their plan is a recipe for the death of the Davis Cup as we know it,” Aussie legend John Newcombe said.
Complicating the issue is the revived ATP World Team Cup set for January 2020 with 24 teams, prize money and rankings points to be played in Australia ahead of the Australian Open, that many feel will cramp an already congested year-end schedule and diminishing off season.
The World Team Cup is to be staged just six weeks after the 2019 Davis Cup Final, scheduling that ATP executive chairman Chris Kermode described as “insane.”
Players are divided in their opinions, although most recognised the need for some change.
World No 1 Rafael Nadal and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic are among those supporting reform.
“It is a good initiative that can work,” Rafael Nadal said ahead of the vote.
“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.”
Novak Djokovic said: “It is fantastic news. 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 attractive 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.”
Marin Cilic echoed the same sentiments: “Players have been trying to talk to the ITF, and there have been so many conversations for the last 10 years to change Davis Cup because it’s just too difficult for players to play four weeks of the year, and every single year.
“There have been many conversations about how to change things — maybe the scoring system, or to have it every two years.
“This news that we can have it all in a one-week tournament is incredibly good and valuable.
“I think it will bring more attention to Davis Cup, everyone will be much more involved rather than just two teams and it will create a nice vibe.”
There are those who are vehemently against, such as Lucas Pouille: “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.
“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.”
Nicolas Mahut said: “They have just killed the Davis Cup.
“The essence of this historic competition is to play away or at home. I was the first to say we needed to reform it. But not to destroy it.”
Lleyton Hewitt has been vocal in his objection: “I am obviously totally against it and pretty frustrated by what has occurred.
“The [proposed] competition is not the Davis Cup. You can’t call this the Davis Cup.
“You can ask anyone for the past 50 years who has played the Davis Cup and [this proposal] is not what it is about, nor what it should be about.”
Roger Federer, however, was sitting firmly on the fence: “I’m surprised this is happening because I do not know another Davis Cup other than [what it is now].
“I have heard extremely positive and extremely negative reactions.”
The ITF and Kosmos apparently have already taken all the necessary steps to successfully consolidate transition to the new format and are planning to announce further details in the coming weeks.
As the winds of change blast through tradition, many will rue this day, 16 August 2018, when the Davis Cup irrevocably changed.