TENNIS10SBALLS | 10SBALLS • RANTS ABOUT THE DEATH OF DAVIS CUP

Written by: on 27th November 2018
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France vs Switzerland
TENNIS10SBALLS | 10SBALLS • RANTS ABOUT THE DEATH OF DAVIS CUP

epa04501206 Swiss Davis Cup team players celebrate with the trophy after defeating France in the Davis Cup World Final at the Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Lille, France, 23 November 2014. Switzerland won 3-1. EPA/YOAN VALAT  |

By Alix Ramsay

 

Farewell, old friend. We have known each other for a long time but now it is time to say goodbye. Ladies and gentlemen, the Davis Cup has left the building.

 

As Marin Cilic flattened Lucas Pouille to clinch the winning point in the weekend’s final in Lille, the Davis Cup was finally laid to rest after 118 years of history. Cilic was ecstatic, the rest of the Croatian team jumped on him and the celebrations began. The tiny nation of 4 million souls had won their second Davis Cup in 14 years. And their last.

 

The French, who were hoping to win for the second year running and the 11th time in all, took their defeat well. Cilic and Borna Coric had been too good for them, plain and simple. Their fury and frustration was not directed at the Croats or themselves (and that was new: French teams in every sport have a nasty habit of imploding) but at the people who had sold their precious competition to the highest bidder. The French love the Davis Cup – they are rather good at it, after all – and now the famous old team event was to be torn apart, repackaged and, in all probability, destroyed.

 

Oh, sure, there will be a new event next year – a sparkly, new-fangled tournament with a sprinkling of home ties after the Australian Open and then nothing until November, but it won’t be the Davis Cup. And the final… well, who knows how that will turn out. A heap of 18 teams split into six groups all competing in a shortened, best-of-three set format in the hope of producing eight quarter-finalists.

 

Yes, we know you have spotted that six groups produce six winners but the other two quarter-finalists will be the best two second placed teams. The teams with the best losing record. Or winning record while losing, if you see what we mean. Don’t worry, well-paid men in suits have thought this through. What can possibly go wrong?

 

The Davis Cup had long had its problems. Everyone knew that. But the issues were not so much with the event itself as the timing of it and its place in the calendar. The top players dipped in and out depending on their priorities for the season because even the very best only have a limited amount of resources and they have to be used wisely.

 

The problems were not helped by the constant power struggles between the governing bodies of the game, none of whom ever wanted to give an inch. The ATP has X number of weeks a year, the WTA has Y number of weeks a year, the grand slams have their slot in the schedule and the Davis Cup had to be shoehorned into that timetable. No wonder, then, that some refused to play: “I’ve just won the U.S. Open and now you expect me to scrape myself up off the floor, travel across eight time zones and play on a completely different surface for three, highly pressurised days before jumping on another plane and going to Japan for the start of the Asia swing? Dream on, pal, dream on…”

 

But the response of the ITF to this has not been so much radical as suicidal.

 

Hands up who actually knows what the ITF does. Or why. Yes, we thought so. We don’t know, either. But everyone knew what the Davis Cup was: that spectacular trophy, those spine-tingling finals that brought sports fans, not just tennis fans, into the bear pit of the arena and gave them three days of drama – we all knew about that. So the ITF binned it and chased after the promise of big bucks.

 

The new event – the French captain, Yannick Noah, does not want to call next year’s tournament to be called the Davis Cup, such is his disgust – promises to deliver $3billion over 25 years. That is the deal struck with Kosmos, the company founded by Gerard Piqué, the Spanish football star. So, with that amount of cash up for grabs, the ITF grabbed it.

 

Now, those of you of a certain age may remember when the ATP did a deal with the sports marketing gurus, ISL. Give us you nine best tournaments, ISL said, and give us your end-of-year championships, and we will give you the keys to Fort Knox. Yes, yes, the ATP said. We will dismiss all our sponsors, we will let you run the show and you will give us $1.2billion. This is too good to be true.

 

And it was too good to be true. Two years later, ISL went bust leaving the newly branded Masters Series tournaments scrabbling to find prize money, sponsors and any hope of breaking even.

 

In two or three years, when Roger Federer has hung up his racket to focus on his business interests, Rafa Nadal has gone fishing and even Novak Djokovic is slowing down, what exactly will Kosmos have to market? An antiseptic tournament staged a time of year when everyone is exhausted, held in a neutral venue (and with the Japanese investment from Rakuten, you can be sure that Asia will want to have it sooner rather than later) in an atmosphere like any other, run-of-the-mill tournament? That is guaranteed to raise $3billion.

 

The Davis Cup’s problems were a bit like an in-growing toenail. Awkward, unpleasant to deal with but not exactly life threatening. The ITF’s response has been radical surgery. “We can stop your toe from hurting. We’ll cut the whole leg off and give you a brand new, plastic leg. Only it will be a bit shorter than the old one – short legs are all the rage, you know; TV and the millennials love them – and it won’t look anything like the old one. In fact, it won’t look like a leg at all. But provided you don’t fall over, it’ll be fine.”

 

All the Davis Cup needed was a bit of TLC and maybe a gentle pedicure. That and the people at the top end of tennis to come together and talk to each other sensibly (and, perhaps, listen to the players rather than the bankers while they were at it). Instead, tennis has lost one of its greatest competitions. But, sadly, that is what the marketing men in suits call progress.

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Farewell, old friend. We have known each other for a long time but now it is time to say goodbye. Ladies and gentlemen, the Davis Cup has left the building.