World cup of tennis will 'prove popular'

France's captain Yannick Noah (right) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga kissing the trophy as the rest of the team look on after they beat Belgium in November's Davis Cup final in Lille. The Cup's revamp will see it played in one host city.
France's captain Yannick Noah (right) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga kissing the trophy as the rest of the team look on after they beat Belgium in November's Davis Cup final in Lille. The Cup's revamp will see it played in one host city.PHOTO: REUTERS

ITF president Haggerty says new Davis Cup format will be lucrative and attract top stars

LONDON • In what would arguably be the biggest change to the Davis Cup since its creation in 1900, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Monday plans to transform the annual national-team competition.

The World Cup of Tennis Finals will bring the 16 leading nations plus two wild cards together in one city for a week-long climax to the season, with the inaugural edition expected to start next year.

While traditionalists may mourn the loss of the home-and-away format that can generate partisan atmospheres, others will say the move to modernise the 118-year-old team event that moves at a glacial pace throughout the year has been long overdue.

Barcelona and Spain footballer Gerard Pique, founder of investment group Kosmos which signed a 25-year, US$3 billion (S$4 billion) partnership with the ITF to run the new event, believes the radical overhaul is needed. The avid tennis player met leading players in Madrid last year to discuss his proposals for a tennis competition to run along similar lines as the football World Cup.

ITF president David Haggerty has made transforming the flagging fortunes of the Davis Cup and maximising its financial potential his priority since taking over in 2015. Now it looks as though he has got his wish.

"This is a seminal moment," Haggerty said. "Davis Cup is such a fantastic property and we think 18 teams in one place for the final will really resonate.

TRAMPLING ON TRADITION

Terrible. The value and spirit of the whole team competition is gone.

YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV, former Davis Cup winner with Russia, not welcoming the tournament's impending changes.


SOME PLAYERS WANT IT

It's been a two-way process. I met the Player Council in 2016 and they raised this idea of playing less so they can play more.

DAVID HAGGERTY, on the new format not being motivated solely by the organisers' interests.

"We know top players will play and we think it will make the Davis Cup even better than it is today."

The Davis Cup World Group is currently played over three weekends from February to September with the final in November.

Under the new plans, the tournament will be played over seven days in November. It will feature six groups of three teams battling it out in a round-robin format.

The six group winners plus the two best runners-up will advance to a quarter-final knockout stage.

Each tie will consist of two singles rubbers and one doubles over the best-of-three sets.

The eight teams who fail to make the knockout stages will then face the eight zonal winners in a play-off during that same week. The eight play-off winners will earn a place in the following year's finals.

Haggerty is confident the new event will prove popular with the leading players, whose participation would be key, and the TV companies which might be scrambling for broadcast rights.

"It's been a two-way process. I met the Player Council in 2016 and they raised this idea of playing less so they can play more," he said.

"We think that this will have a football World Cup atmosphere. It will bring many fans, great tennis on the court and plenty of entertainment off it."

Haggerty said the first host city could be announced within six weeks. The lucrative proposal requires final approval in August by the ITF's general membership.

"It's politically tricky and no sure thing that this gets rubber-stamped," said Jim Courier, the US' Davis Cup captain, expressing support for the plan.

Some former Davis Cup champions, like Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, consider the proposal a travesty.

"Terrible," he said on Monday. "The value and spirit of the whole team competition is gone."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'World cup of tennis will 'prove popular''. Print Edition | Subscribe