A clear work in progress – Davis Cup 2019

Written by Sport, Sport Features

Last weekend Spain beat Canada in the Davis Cup final, as Rafael Nadal beat Denis Shapovalov to secure the trophy in front of a home crowd . That in itself may not be huge news but what is remarkable is the format of the 119-year old competition.

Doing away with the traditional home and away format that the Davis Cup was run on, this year’s competition underwent a radical change at the behest of Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique. Along the lines of major international tournaments such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, the tournament was kept short with just a week or so between the first game and the last.

The revamp sees 18 teams divided into six groups of three each with the group winners plus the two best second placed teams making it to the quarterfinals from where it will be a knockout tournament all the way to the final. The teams will play each other in three matches – two singles and one doubles matches – over the course of a day to decide the winners.

The new format has given rise to mixed opinions – with Roger Federer being the most vocal critic of the “Pique tournament” as he once called it. German star Alexander Zverev has also criticised the tournament. Both players are not part of the tournament and are instead playing a series of exhibition matches against each other in Latin America. On the other hand, stars like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have all played here and have said that while the new format is a radical change from the old, it does need to be given time to iron out the creases.

And creases it does have. Crowds for games that do not feature hosts Spain – especially in the group stages – were surprisingly small and the opening ceremony was a dour affair, in terms of numbers at least. There were games that ended at absurdly late times (USA vs Italy ended at 4.04 AM local time). The websites and the app were disasters for such a huge tournament- sometimes showing the wrong scores . And even on court, the players had problems serving when the neon ad boards flashed in front of them. Another spanner in the works is the fact that this is just six weeks away from a similar tournament called the ATP Cup to be held in Australia. The idea is that eventually, the two tournaments can be replaced instead by one.

There is potential for this new format to eventually take hold. But in a sport that is more individual than team, it is going to take a monumental effort next year to both rectify the errors of this one and successfully start replacing one of the oldest competitions in tennis.

Last modified: 10th December 2019

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