Tennis World Cup no threat to the Davis Cup

2010-01-16 00:00

MELBOURNE — Promoters of the world cup of tennis concept don’t think its introduction would mean the demise of the Davis Cup.

Melbourne-based sports and marketing firm Gemba has been developing the world cup idea for 14 months and been presenting it to tennis organisers and certain players for the past six.

The proposed event would involve rules changes and 32 teams playing in a 10-day biennial event at a single venue, based along the lines of the Fifa Football World Cup.

Details emerged on Wednesday when Novak Djokovic discussed it at an Australian Open tuneup event at Kooyong. Number-three-ranked Djokovic said the ATP’s Player Council, which also includes number one Roger Federer and number two Rafael Nadal, would discuss it over the next two weeks during the season’s opening major.

The International Tennis Federation issued a statement defending the importance of the Davis Cup, the men’s 110-year-old team event.

Gemba director James Hird, who was travelling to Los Angeles when the details started emerging on Wednesday, said there was a place for the new tournament in a crowded calendar.

“We certainly don’t want it to replace the Davis Cup — that’s certainly not the intention,” Hird said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Being Australian, the Davis Cup means a lot. I’ve got great memories of Pat Cash, Pat Rafter and now Lleyton Hewitt and their Davis Cup exploits, and I appreciate how much it means.

“But there’s a consumer out there who wants more. And if we can bring a new tennis fan to the game, that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Hird, formerly a highly-awarded Australian Rules footballer, said the format and rule amendments means the concept could have a similar impact on tennis as Twenty20 has on cricket — offering something to fans of the sport while also attracting new supporters.

“If it has the same success as Twenty20 cricket, the tennis family would be very happy,” Hird said. “It’s not as radical as that.

“There’s questions about viability, calendar and scope of the rules ... but it can work.”

The ITF said the proposal faced “many challenges” to become reality.

“This proposal has some interesting elements and, of course, timely branding, given the current worldwide fascination with the 2010 Fifa World Cup,” the ITF said in a statement. “Everyone is in agreement that a nation versus nation format is very attractive, something Davis Cup has recognised for over a century, and only time will tell if a new competition can earn a regular place in the tennis calendar.”

Organisers of three of the four tennis Grand Slam events have also seen the proposal.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said it was “innovative, refreshing and thoughtfully put together.”

“Any initiative that will further expose our sport and will grow its participation, particularly in Australia but also worldwide, has to be great for tennis,” he said in a statement issued to the AP.

The Davis Cup pits countries against each other over several weekends during the tennis season. Many top players skip Davis Cup weekends to take time off in a crowded schedule.

Djokovic, who plays Davis Cup for Serbia, said discussions were only at a very preliminary stage among players.

“The main point is that we are trying to make the sport improve and get better,” Djokovic said. “The players are the ones who are making the show and their opinions have to be greatly considered.

“We will have some talks here in Australia that will be crucial for upcoming years and ... the only thing I can say is that I’m happy that all the top players are willing to participate in these talks and try to contribute and fight for their own rights.”

The schedule would make any change to the tour difficult, he said.

“We still don’t know whether the idea is going to pass because there are many potential consequences,” he said. “Considering the current schedule, which is very busy, something will be sacrificed. What periods, what tournaments, what country, we still don’t know.”

The World Cup would require each team to use at least two players per five-set match, and would also feature a clock giving players a maximum 25 seconds between points, plus tiebreakers that would be won by the first team to five points.

The 32 teams would be split into eight groups of four, with the top two in each advancing to the knockout rounds.

British player Andy Murray seemed intrigued.

“I am a great fan of the Davis Cup, but if a decision was taken to drop it, or something else could change in the calendar, then a World Cup is a fascinating idea,” Murray told The Times of London newspaper.

Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic said players still wanted to represent their countries, but committing to Davis Cup was sometimes difficult.

“Our sport is going forward, so you have to change something about it,” he said. “Maybe (Davis Cup) was perfect 20 or 30 years ago, but now it is really too much for us, the best of five sets three days in a row and for sure, the week after you can’t play, the week before you can’t play, so it takes a lot of your time.”

The Davis Cup has weathered major changes in the game, including the move to professionalism in 1968 and the advent of the men’s ATP tour.

“While Davis Cup has evolved and modernised over the years, it has not lost its intrinsic values based around the home-and-away format that attracts great support from fans, sponsors, television and the players themselves who enjoy playing in front of their home country fans,” the ITF said.

The ITF also noted that it has a five-year contract with the ATP World Tour “guaranteeing dates and ranking points.”

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