There is nothing like the atmosphere at a Davis or Fed Cup Rubber! It is fandom and nationalism at its peak. The venue is packed. The music is loud. The fans cheer, boo, chant and dance with flags, signs and in their country’s gear. This image is beautiful. When the top players vanish off the rosters, the tournament loses it luster.
In the first round of Davis Cup this year, February 3-5th, Novak Djokovic of Serbia was the only member of the Top 10 to play. For the ITF the bell had finally rung. However, Davis Cup has long been under the bright lights of protest. Fans, players and stakeholders alike have been calling for changes for many years. The tournament’s problems are many, from its format to the length of matches, the absence of high-ranking player and the demise of viewer interest. ITF President, David Haggerty means to right this by changing three of Davis Cup’s 117 year traditions.
Alter best-of-five to best-of-three-set matches.
Reduce ties from three days to two, pending consultation with the event’s sponsors and broadcasters.
- Use neutral venue for finals. Davis Cup final at a neutral venue chosen far in advance, to help with revenue and promotion.
There is already a change.com petition to save the tournament and stop the changes. The proposed changes, which would be enacted in 2018, must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the I.T.F.’s full membership at its annual general meeting August 4, 2017 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. News of the proposed changes hit on March 9th and by April 6th, the story had not faded. Players and legends have shared their concerns.
As owner of the Davis Cup, ITF President David Haggerty has made it clear, “… the main drivers of our strategy are to increase top player participation and enhance the experience for the fans, the spectators and the broadcasters,” Unfortunately, Haggerty’s proposal is a piecemeal approach to addressing a global tennis problem. Also, the proposed changes are specific to Davis Cup, so what about Fed Cup? Moreover, the proposed changes do not address the tournament’s frequency.
If all of tennis’ seven bodies collaborated to propose a comprehensive calendar with short and long-term changes, fans, players and stakeholders would be better prepared to support or dismiss changes. Ultimately the proposed changes will not resolve the tournament’s problems and it will not increase interest. Neutral venues will forever alter the uniqueness and marketability of Davis Cup. Regardless of the vote or crowd projections, the ITF will Cling to the Davis Cup’s economic impact, “as the largest annual international team competition in sport generating an annual economic impact of $184 million according to a report commissioned by the ITF.”
Davis Cup Quarterfinals
It is the beginning of the clay season, yet Davis Cup is being played on hard courts: Australia/US hard in-door, Belgium/Italy hard in-door, Serbia/Spain hard in-door. France/Great Britain is the only quarterfinal being played on Clay in-door. Though it is the home nation that selects the surface, this is but one more manner in which Davis Cup hinders instead of supports the tour and ultimately the sport.
As an American and a tennis lover, the most intriguing and riveting quarterfinal was Australia/USA. Led by Jim Courier, Sock-Isner-Querrery-Johnson the Americans were certainly the underdogs to Lleywton Hewitt’s all-star team Kyrgios-Thompson-Groth-Peers. Having lost last year to USA, Australia came out determined to give the packed Path Rather Arena in Brisbane a win!
Hewitt’s decision to play Sock against Thompson, then in doubles with Johnson was surprising and faulty. Reportedly, Sock requested the doubles Rubber; he was a swap, Sock for Querrey. Sock won, but he would have been more effective in another singles rubbers. The Bryan brothers were missed.
Friday (opening singles)
Jordan Thompson (Aus) def. Jack Sock (USA) 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4
Nick Kyrgios (Aus) def. John Isner (USA) 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5)
Steve Johnson/Jack Sock (USA) def. Sam Groth/John Peers (Aus) 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3
Sunday (reverse singles)
Nick Kyrgios (Aus) def. Sam Querrey (USA) 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-4
John Isner (USA) def. Sam Groth (Aus) 7-6, 6-3
In short, the Courier’s Strategy failed. After Sock lost to Thompson, the American team lost much of its steam. Sock/Johnson, avoided a more devastating lost, ie elimination. Down 0-2 the American’s win in Rubber 3 gave them their only opportunity at 1-2. Given Kyrgios’ game this year, playing Isner instead of Querrey in Rubber 4 was a novice move. Isner did have a 2-1 H2H with Kyrgios but his limited movement, touch and volley skills are no match for an informed Kyrgios. Down two sets 7(7)-6(4), 6-3, Querrey was up 4-1 in the third. 2016 Kyrgios would have folded and lost the set, but 2017 Kyrgios found his focus peeling off five games. When Kyrgios won the set 6-4, the crowd erupted. It was a bit disappointing to see the fans’ roaring ovation for Coach Hewitt belittling Kyrgios’ accomplishments. Kyrgios may feel differently as he said,“there were a lot of ebbs and flows, and I knew I hit a bit of a flat patch at the start of the third set… But with Lleyton on the side telling me to compete for every point, and obviously the crowd, it’s easy to get up out here.” Every member of the team is valuable, but this win was earned by Kyrgios. Though the Americans won Rubber 5, it is the Australians who will go to the semifinals in September to play Belgium and France will attempt to defeat Serbia. If AUS/USA was the most riveting, France/Great Britain was the most disappointing.
This weekend, Davis Cup Quarterfinals put many players at a disadvantage for the French Open and of course its lead-up tournaments. The majority of the American team (Isner, Johnson, Sock…) is scheduled to play Houston (The Fayez Sarofim & Co. Us Men’s Clay Court Championship) next week but the fourth and maybe fifth rubber is scheduled for April 9th. This leaves little time before the start of Houston (april 8th), even if they have first round byes. Ironically, no Australians are playing Houston or Marrakech (April 8th). Will Dimitrov and the five Spaniards playing on clay in Marrakech have an advantage in their preparedness for the French Open? Davis Cup continues to be a point of contention, and this will not change with the August vote. Davis Cup is far from the World Cup moniker it so desparately wants, yet I look forward to the semi-finals in September even though top players are not likely to play!