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The Davis Cup is About to Change Format and Spirit

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Photo: Reuters

Last Monday evening, many hardcore tennis fans were already « mourning the Davis Cup, or its spirit, on social media. By approving a series of reforms for Davis Cup but also for Fed Cup (both by BNP Paribas), that have been recommended by the Davis Cup and Fed Cup Committees, the ITF Board of Directors was at the center of many bitter comments.

The wide-ranging reform package, which would come into effect in 2018, notably includes that all singles matches in Davis Cup will be played as best-of-three tiebreak sets, rather than best-of-five sets. Davis Cup will retain its three-day format, with doubles still played on the Saturday over the best-of-five sets. It was also announced that bids to host fixed venue finals for Davis Cup (and Fed Cup) have been received and are being assessed. That means that a final of a Davis Cup (and Fed Cup) may be played at a neutral venue.

The ITF AGM will be asked to approve most of these changes at its annual meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in August. Other changes might occur. The finalists in both Davis Cup and Fed Cup could be guaranteed the choice of hosting their first-round tie in the following year. And the dead rubber policy would be amended to reduce the number of dead rubbers. ITF President David Haggerty said: Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas are two of the most iconic team competitions in sport, but there is no doubt change is needed to ensure that we maximize their full potential. While still needing AGM approval, we are confident that our National Associations will see that to vote for these reforms is to vote for the long-term future of our competitions and our sport.

For the Davis Cup, which lost support of the top players over the last few years, it would be the most important move since 1972 and the abolishment of the Challenge Round when the defending champion was automatically qualified for the next final with home advantage.

The idea of a possible neutral court for the final is devastating for many traditionalists who would also bemoan the loss of the long-form Davis Cup, which has generated many epic matches through the decades. The last final between Croatia and Argentina would have fallen flat if it had been held anywhere other than Croatia or Argentina. Last year, Argentina’s first victory was a major story around the world and a cause for celebration in that country in love with the Davis Cup. When France won in 1991, for the first time since 1932, the images of Yannick Noah, the French captain, singing and dancing with his players on the court in an ecstatic Palais des Sports of Lyon, are still vivid.

This year, Davis Cup is in competition with the Laver Cup, a new team event inspired by the Ryder Cup and that pits Europe against the rest of the world. The first edition will be played in Prague, in September, with Roger Federer as player and investor. Gerard Pique, the Barcelona defender, and some of associates are also among several groups interested in backing a new men’s team event. Indeed, the ATP Tour is considering a competition of 16 countries in in a week-long World Cup style event.

By Yannick Cochennec for The Sport Intern

This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.

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