So, the tennis world is a bit of mess for whoever does not follow it passionately. It is organized not by championships, but rather four major cups (the Grand Slams); some smaller tournaments are mixed in between, and take place all over the world.
Although tennis is an individual sport, there are some national teams, and they all compete in the Davis Cup, a four-round competition spread throughout the year. In each round, there are singles matches and one doubles, each played to five sets (which basically means they could last for hours).
This week, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has announced they were working on a new format for the Davis Cup, to create a “Tennis World Cup,” an idea which has been passed around for a long time.
The proposition is conducted by the ITF along with Kosmos, a private organization led by FC Barcelona player Gerard Piqué (who plays football, but apparently loves tennis?), and would last for just one week. With eighteen teams participating, it would be held in the same city, with each match (three per round, hope you are still following) being played in three sets. The two organizations released a 25-year plan to advertise and promote the event, anticipating they will invest around US $3 billion for it (it might seem like a lot of money just for sport, but FIFA makes about that much money in two years).
The one problem is, tennis ain’t football. You can’t just touch a historical event like this to make it a big, “brand-friendly” competition like the FIFA World Cup; the Davis Cup is an institution, founded 118 years ago, and it’s one of the oldest sporting competitions in the world. This revolution would be the biggest change it had ever seen, and would impact the tennis world for years, as only the name would remain.
As you have probably guessed, people were not too happy about it. For many, it clearly looks like an attempt to create a competition which would give the ITF immense sums of money, and would maybe draw more attention to the competition than the Grand Slam tournaments. Former French player Cédric Pioline notably stated that it was a “money against tradition” debate.
Indeed, some parts of the Davis Cup were beloved by players and fans, such as the home games: Each round was played in one of the country’s local stadiums. Argentine tennis player Diego Schwartzman, who played in the tournament in 2015, argues that the loss of these home games will impact not only the local federations’ revenues, which will be lost to the ITF, but also the local passion for the competition, as fans probably won’t travel to it. Believe me, playing in Argentina in front of your local fans rather than on neutral ground probably makes quite the difference.
The Tennis World Cup would also lose a beloved tradition of the Davis Cup, the “marathon matches,” because the five-set matches could last up to seven hours, creating stressful memories for many tennis fans.
But if the Davis Cup was so great, you wonder, why would they want to change it?
We will be honest for a second: the competition was not taken seriously by everyone. Many players thought it was a waste of time, and above all a serious “injury maker” (due to the length of the matches), which is dangerous to play in between two Grand Slam tournaments. After winning it in 2015, Roger Federer, who injured himself many times during the competition, notably stated the “the Davis Cup has always been a burden to shoulder and caused more difficulties than anything else in my career.” The Swiss federation, to which Federer belongs, supported the player, its President stating that “without this change, the Davis Cup will be dead in three to four years.” Indeed, many believed the competition needed a reform, but French player Nicolas Mahut accused the ITF “not to reform the competition, but to destroy it:” he is one of the rare players to stand up against the new format.
The reason is understandable: money. The prize money for the tournament will be, for the first edition, of US $20 million to share between the players, an amount which will probably increase, depending on the success the competition encounters. “The spirit of the competition is going to change,” accused former player Guy Forget, “players will try to win money, not a sort of patriotic feeling.” Tennis stars (and millionaires) Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Murray all reportedly support the proposition. Former Australian player John Fitzgerald tried to temper: “It is such an important, iconic event. It is certainly something you do not want to get wrong…You just want to be very confident that it’s going to work before making a move that would forever change a competition that is more than 100 years old.”
Argentina’s own Juan Martín del Potro said he viewed the changes from a positive eye, while stating that no matter how the competition was held, “[Argentina] would win the Davis Cup in any format needed!” (he sure knows how to hype the fans). Del Potro notably won the competition with Argentina in 2016.
The final vote for the introduction of the new format will be held in August, for the competition to start in 2019 or 2020. Experts believe that Kosmos’ proposition, a “festival of tennis and entertainment” as they called it, has many chances to go through, but many players and fans will raise their voice against the change. Australian journalist Will Swanton called it “a one-week, Mickey Mouse, soulless, made-for-TV World Cup of Tennis Finals — with the winner to be named the Davis Cup champion as an afterthought.”