Australia has just produced a stunning Davis Cup performance to defeat the United States and qualify for the semifinals in September – but we shouldn’t let the euphoria of this moment overshadow a big issue facing the prestigious competition.
As American captain Jim Courier noted, the Davis Cup format needs a major change – and I wholeheartedly agree.
Let me state that the Davis Cup was a driving force in my own career and provided some of the greatest moments I had on court. But now I have grave concerns about its future.
Davis Cup in Australia in the 1950 and 1960’s was the pinnacle of all sporting events in the country. Today it doesn’t shine as brightly in an increasingly competitive sporting landscape.
As much as I applaud the new President of the ITF Dave Haggerty for proposing changes to the current format, unfortunately for him the horse bolted on this issue long ago. For at least 20 years the ITF sat on its hands refusing to listen to player concerns regarding scheduling, dead rubbers and running the event annually.
Guess everyone except ITF agree that we need to change. https://t.co/NH9EAoSck0
— Bruno Soares (@BrunoSoares82) April 10, 2017
Let’s address these issues individually.
Firstly, it is impossible for the top players to commit to this event every year given the physical demands of the modern game. The reality is that to win a Davis Cup takes six or seven weeks out of your schedule. That means trying to peak outside of the four Grand Slam events, which are naturally a player’s priority.
Think about it: how can Roger and Rafa be expected to turn up to Davis Cup the weekend after playing the epic Australian Open final this year? That’s just physically and mentally impossible!
Dead rubbers: Having played, and now worked as a host and commentator at ties, they are a farce. Who wants to watch a match that has no relevance to the overall result? Players are disinterested and play with no intensity, which is a poor representation of our sport.
Back in 2003 I was threatened with suspension by the ITF if I didn’t play the final dead rubber in a first round tie against Great Britain. At the age of 32 I had not played a singles match in two years – not great viewing for a paying audience.
With the exception of the Davis Cup final, as a business model the current format of playing ties simultaneously all around the world over one weekend is commercially unviable. National federations take a massive loss on home ties, and a slightly reduced loss when playing away, because they don’t have to pay for the required infrastructure build of stadium courts.
How can any event promoter be expected to find a venue, build a stadium court, promote the tie and then sell tickets with a six week lead-in? That is what is required by the current format.
Changing to best-of-three sets or even two days – like in Fed Cup – is simply a band-aid over an ulcer. Without proper treatment it will need amputation.
In my view there is only one way to keep Davis Cup (and for that matter Fed Cup) relevant: it has to be played as a festival of tennis over one or two weeks every alternate year. It needs to be hosted by a global city with an expanded amount of teams who are eligible to win. Sixteen is not enough to create global interest. Television, which drives the dollars in sport, will love it, and everyone comes off a winner.
Do this and the Davis Cup could quite possible return to its former glory.
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