Black day or bright future? Radical Davis Cup shake-up approved

David Haggerty (Getty)
David Haggerty (Getty)

Orlando - World tennis chiefs on Thursday approved a radical Davis Cup overhaul that will condense the 118-year-old worldwide showpiece into an 18-team, week-long event but critics blasted the changes as a "black day" for the sport.

The shake-up for the men's tournament received 71.43 percent support from delegates at the  annual meeting in Orlando, well ahead of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

"I feel very comfortable that this is not a risk for the Davis Cup. It's the right thing to do," ITF president David Haggerty said.

Kosmos, an investment group led by Barcelona football star Gerard Pique with Japanese and Chinese support, will spend $3 billion over 25 years on the new event, with a European host for 2019, reportedly Madrid or Lille, expected to be announced later this month.

"I think Davis Cup has untapped potential," Pique said. "We had to bring this competition again to the top of the tennis world. This is what we expect.

"Now we have a lot of work to do, with the federations, with the players. We want to know what the players want and make the best world possible."

The current Davis Cup format is a knockout event played February, July, September and November at home and away venues around the globe, best-of-five match ties following Grand Slam events until the final round.

Many top players have skipped it in recent years to ease their schedule, althrough the reform plan will put Davis Cup in November, trimming the off-season.

The reform plan will create finals with 18 teams: 12 winners from 24-team home and away qualifying ties in February, the previous year's four semi-finalists and two wild-card nations.

Round-robin groups of three would send six group winners and two runners-up into knockout playoffs Friday-Sunday.

The finals would feature two singles matches and one doubles match each day, all cut to best-of-three sets.

The 2019 event will take place from November 18-24 in either Madrid or Lille.

Many reactions to the vote mourned the death of the Davis Cup or a sellout move, with Britain, Germany and Australia among those opposing the plan.

"Today is a black day for the Davis Cup. Something with an immense tradition has been lost and it will never be the same again," the Czech Republic Davis Cup team posted on Facebook. "We are sorry that the Davis Cup will never be what it was."

"For us, the result is a bitter disappointment which has left us stunned," said German federation president Ulrich Klaus.

Tennis Australia was "extremely disappointed with the radical changes," the federation said in a statement.

"Reform is vital for the competition but this proposal takes away too much of what makes the Davis Cup unique and special... the ITF now has a major responsibility to ensure the great heritage and prestige of the competition is somehow retained in this new version of Davis Cup."

Haggerty said the ITF would be open to changing the timing of the event if it would help bring more top players to the Davis Cup as he tries to heal his divided group.

"There are no good guys and bad guys. We all have to come together. We all want what's best for tennis and the Davis Cup," Haggerty said. "They are our friends. We will move forward with them."

Pique spoke to the assembly and tried to unify as well, saying, "To the ones that voted against we'll try to prove that we can deliver the greatest Davis Cup competition ever."

"Obviously its a very big change, one of the most big changes in the history of Davis Cup. That's why I understand the people who can doubt," Pique said later. "At the end of the day, the whole thing is great. It guarantees the future of Davis Cup for 25 years."

Pique played the first half of Barcelona's final pre-season game against Boca Juniors on Wednesday evening, then travelled to Orlando to make his pitch in person, missing club training with Barca on Thursday.

"I didn't sleep for the last 24 hours. because I was preparing the speech when I was on the plane," he said. "I fly out yesterday night just after the game in Spain. I arrive here half an hour before the vote.

"Now I need to celebrate with the team, rest a lot because I have a football game on Saturday -- my career is very important also -- and then start to work for the Davis Cup."

Haggerty said the arrangement would provide about $25 million annually for national tennis associations to invest in grassroots level support.

"It's exciting times," Haggerty said. "We'll have the resources to support tennis for future generations."

However, many will remain unconvinced.

"Crying over two tragic deaths today. Aretha Franklin and @DavisCup .... RIP," tweeted French player Alize Cornet.


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