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Tennis From Madrid • Is It Kosmos Kup or Davis Cup? • 10sBalls Shares Their Take On Day 1

By ALIX RAMSAY 

Captain’s log: stardate 18/11/19. Arrive at Caja Magica press room. Three of the four coffee machines are already out of commission and someone has set fire to the rubbish bin by trying to recycle a lighted cigarette. Welcome to day one of the Davis Cup Finals by Rakuten. It the Davis Cup final, Jim, but not as we know it.

We have come to the new-look finals with an open mind. Well, open-ish. We loved the old Davis Cup, the home and away ties, the atmosphere, the passion. At the end of each year, two teams were left standing to do battle for the biggest – quite literally the biggest – trophy in the sport. And the finals were always three days of nail-biting hope, ear-splitting patriotic fervor and bloody brilliant tennis.

We wait to see what the Caja Magica will offer over the coming week.

The players and captains certainly seem to like it. They may have their misgivings about the format (don’t get Lleyton Hewitt started on that) but they all seem to be delighted with the way they are being treated in Madrid. Then again, when they were waxing lyrical about the fabulous food and hospitality, they had not yet played a match. And it is whether Kosmos, the financial clout behind this operation, can get bums on seats that will be the real test.

To be fair, there was a very healthy queue at the ticket office on Monday and, apparently, in Spain, people often wait until the last minute to buy their tickets. But, even so, one of the group stage ties (the names have been withheld to save national embarrassment) had sold just 90 tickets as the tournament opened for business. And it is still possible to buy a ticket for any match on any day, including the final. Although, for an opening group match, €25 for a whole day of tennis is not a bad deal. It just depends on whether you want to watch Belgium against Colombia or Kazakhstan against the Netherlands or not.

True enough, in old format, Great Britain facing Belgium in the final in 2015 (which over the course of three magnificent days turned into Great Britain beating Belgium… but I am biased) was hardly tearing up the news agenda around the world, but if you were a Brit or a Belgian in Belgium, it was the only place to be. Belgian TV were all over it like a rash, the British media led every news bulletin with it. For 72 hours, Ghent was the centre of our universe.

But back to this year. The fans who did turn up on day one were making as much noise as they could but the problem was where to look. Three ties were taking place simultaneously (Croatia v Russia on the centre court, Italy v Canada on Court No.2 and Belgium v Colombia on Court No.3) and when the Canadians started cheering, it was safe to assume that Vasek Pospisil had got his country’s first point on the board by beating Fabio Fognini. It became even clearer when those same Canadian’s repaired to the bar to celebrate (Pospisil won 7-6, 7-5).

The Belgians, though, had gone awfully quiet. They were beside themselves with joy when Steve Darcis beat Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-2 but where then plunged into despair when David Goffin dropped the first set to Daniel Elahi Galan 6-3. He made a comeback to take the second set, mind you, but somehow the magic had gone from the moment.

The biggest disappointment of the day was the opening ceremony. This was not for a want of effort on the part of the organisers: we had music, we had lights, we had dancers and we a deeply meaningful – and loud – video display. What we lacked were spectators.

The gig started 90 minutes before the first match which was probably about 45 minutes too early. It was also the warm-up act for Croatia v Russia which, while a decent enough tie in itself, was not enough to persuade 10,000 Madrileños to head all the way down Line 3 on the metro and pack the arena. Had the organisers had the presence of mind to put Spain on the main court to get the event up and running, they might have stood a chance of a full house. But no. Maybe next time.

As for the ceremony itself, it was utterly incomprehensible. Lavishly put together, but incomprehensible. After 20 minutes of spectacle, all we could gather was that, according to Kosmos, out of the void, God created tennis and dodgy plumbing. Well, why else was there a recurring theme of huge water drops running through the video show?

When the teams were finally introduced, there were a few more people in the stadium but the 18 nations hardly walked out to thunderous applause. Then again, it is possible to count on the fingers of one hand the memorable opening ceremonies in any arena in any sport. They all tend to be pretentious and deeply duff.

So, at the end of day one, we have a big, international tennis competition in full swing. The thing is, it is called the Davis Cup but it is not the Davis Cup. Not the Davis Cup we remember. Whether it will grow into a new Davis Cup, one we will love and cherish as in days gone by, we cannot tell. Not yet. At the moment it is Davis Cup Lite. The D-Cup (other bra sizes are available). It has a long, long way to go to earn the respect of its big brother, the 119-year-old Davis Cup proper. But at least it survived the first day.

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