A consortium headed up by Spain and Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique will invest £2.15 billion to revamp the only team competition in tennis, the Davis Cup.
The 118-year-old men’s tennis event, traditionally played over various surfaces in three-day home and away ties throughout the season, is set to be transformed into an 18-country Tennis World Cup Finals, starting in early 2019.
Pique’s Cosmos group will join forces with the governing body of world tennis, the ITF (International Tennis Federation), to commit to the expensive overhaul over a 25-year period.
Despite its rich history and tradition, the Davis Cup has struggled to maintain the interests of the world’s top players, with the likes of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer having preferred to turn their attentions elsewhere. This is mainly because of the scheduling’s proximity to the Grand Slam tournaments, but also due to the greater prestige, points and prize money on offer at bigger Masters events worldwide. The ATP World Tour Finals – the season-ending finale for the world’s top eight players – is played the week before the Davis Cup final.
The new plans will see the World Cup of Tennis played over seven days every November, in the traditional week of the Davis Cup final, in a single venue – not on a home and away basis. This works in many other sports such as cricket, but remains an untested novelty in the primitive and nuanced tennis environment.
The competition will comprise 18 teams: the 16 World Group nations – who qualify automatically – plus an additional two, to be decided by a play-off. The finals will consist of a round-robin format, followed by a knockout stage from the quarter-finals onwards, similar to most football cup competitions. The winners will take home the trophy which will still be called the Davis Cup. Great Britain memorably lifted the famous tournament in 2015 – ending a 79-year wait in the process – and France are the current champions, having beaten Belgium in November’s final.
Currently, ties are played over best-of-five sets, but that will be reduced to best-of-three, although the format of two singles and one doubles rubber will be retained. The ITF are hopeful that reducing the length of the matches and the competition itself will make the new, truncated tournament more appealing and tangible to the world’s elite. Djokovic and Andy Murray are thought to have reacted positively to the new proposals, but British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith has said he is keeping an open mind about the changes.
The women’s equivalent, the Fed Cup, could also see a radical overhaul in the future.