Fans lukewarm to 'New' Davis Cup

Croatia's Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic playing Russia's Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev during their doubles tie in Madrid on Monday. While some supporters, including this group from Croatia (above), turned up to cheer the players, the stands were
Croatia's Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic playing Russia's Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev during their doubles tie in Madrid on Monday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Croatia's Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic playing Russia's Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev during their doubles tie in Madrid on Monday. While some supporters, including this group from Croatia (above), turned up to cheer the players, the stands were
While some supporters, including this group from Croatia (above), turned up to cheer the players, the stands were only half full. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Format change from home-away to single host city will take time to catch on

MADRID • Gerard Pique boldly describes the inaugural edition of the revamped Davis Cup as a "new era for tennis" but amid all the glitz and glamour in Madrid's La Caja Magica, there was only gloom for champions Croatia on Monday.

Without their injured talisman Marin Cilic and with the team in upheaval after coach Zeljko Krajan was axed two days before their opener for unspecified reasons, they were drubbed 3-0 by Russia.

Borna Gojo lost to Andrey Rublev, Borna Coric was edged out by Karen Khachanov and they could not even manage a consolation point as Khachanov and Rublev combined to beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic in the doubles.

To make it worse, the tie took place in a 12,000-seater arena that looked no more than half full, with little of the fabled Davis Cup atmosphere Croatia could have relied on in either Zagreb or Split.

And to rub salt into their wounds, they will almost certainly need to beat Rafael Nadal's Spain in their second Group B tie today to reach the knockout phase.

It was a bit different a year ago when Cilic fired Croatia to victory over France in front of a deafening din in Lille's football stadium.

That was the last final before radical changes to the historic team event, voted in by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) last year in association with Barcelona footballer Pique's investment firm Kosmos, came into effect.

The ITF has come under fire for meddling with the home-away format and replacing it with a football World Cup-style event featuring 18 countries, in one city, battling for the championship over seven days.

Kosmos is pumping US$3 billion (S$4.08 billion) into the ITF's coffers over 25 years and no expense was spared on Monday's lavish opening ceremony which featured a spectacular light show, dancers, drummers, violinists and an ear-pummelling DJ set.

KILLJOY

It's a good atmosphere but only because we are here. But without regular Davis Cup ties our club might die.

PASCAL GILTAIRE, Belgium's tennis supporters club president, longing for the previous format.

The problem was, at 2pm on a Monday afternoon in Madrid, there were not many inside to watch the special effects. A band of Croatian fans, complete with a brass band, whipped up some noise in the arena but went flat as their team lost.

The new format features 12 countries who came through the traditional February qualifying ties, last year's four semi-finalists and wildcards Britain and Argentina.

Organisers must get through 25 ties featuring two singles and a doubles rubber in seven days so two smaller stadium courts are also used, and it was there that a more familiar Davis Cup sound could be heard on Monday.

It was not quite Liege but about 100 Belgian fans roared on Steve Darcis, the man they call Mr Davis Cup, and David Goffin to a 2-1 win over Colombia.

On Court Two, Canada's fans celebrated every point with a song as Vasek Pospisil beat Italy's Fabio Fognini before 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov stunned world No. 8 Matteo Berrettini to also win 2-1 and spark a red-and-white party.

But even at those matches, not all were won over by the new format.

"The only reason I came was because it's the last match for Steve Darcis," said a Belgian fan.

"I won't come next year."

Belgium's supporters club president Pascal Giltaire said fans had planned a boycott in protest at being deprived of their beloved home ties, only for 50 or so diehards to convince him otherwise.

"It's a good atmosphere but only because we are here," he said.

"But without regular Davis Cup ties our club might die."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2019, with the headline 'Fans lukewarm to 'New' Davis Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe