Stakeholders hit out at ITF's Davis Cup reform plans
Plans to radically revamp the Davis Cup, the men’s national teams tennis competition, have been met with stiff opposition from some International Tennis Federation member associations.
The RBTF and DTB, the Belgian and German tennis federations, respectively, have already vowed to vote against proposals to create a new annual season-ending World Cup of Tennis Finals from 2019, which would feature 18 nations and be played over one week in one city in November.
The ITF announced the 25-year, $3-billion plan yesterday in partnership with investment group Kosmos, founded by Spanish soccer star Gerard Pique, and with significant financial backing from Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and chief executive of Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce company.
David Haggerty, who has fought to revamp the Davis Cup since assuming the ITF presidency in September 2015, called it "a complete game-changer for the ITF and for tennis."
The proposals will go before the ITF annual general meeting in Florida in August, and must be backed by a majority of two-thirds.
Today's reaction suggests that will not be a given.
DTB vice-president Dirk Hordoff wrote on Facebook: "Just that you know, the German Tennis Federation is in opposition to this and our president and the board made this clear to the ITF. The neutral final or neutral final and neutral semi-final would destroy the unique format of these team events... Let's fight together for a better future of these great events and lets hope that the nations of the world stop David Haggerty with his plans."
Andre Stein, president of the RBTF, told Reuters: “We are absolutely against and will vote against. This formula is precisely what we do not want, because Belgium will never have the means to organise such a competition, so our public and our partners would see the already rare opportunities to see the best Belgian players in action fall away.”
Ghent staged the 2015 Davis Cup final between Belgium and Great Britain.
Gijs Kooken, chief executive of Tennis Vlaanderen, the Flemish administrative branch of the RBtF, said a single city risks "killing the soul" of the competition, adding: "The Davis Cup atmosphere is really something unique. The ITF are focusing on having a bigger event but our concern is that this part of it [the home and away format] creates big event value."
Stein said: "I know the French are against it too.”
Indeed, Nicolas Mahut of France, the reigning Davis Cup champions, said he was "stunned" to learn of the World Cup of Tennis Finals proposal "without having heard any discussion."
He told L'Equipe: "A Croatia-Argentina final in Beijing, what passion will it unleash?... I already hope that the FFT [the French Tennis Federation] will vote no, it's my personal wish. We had already fought last year to avoid the final on neutral ground."
The ITF board had previously worked on a proposal to introduce a neutral venue for the Davis and Fed Cup finals - Geneva, Switzerland, from 2018 to 2020 - but it deferred a vote on the concept at last August's AGM, claiming it needed to continue talks with all stakeholders.
At that AGM, delegates voted in favour of giving the ITF board the authority to make changes to the two competitions on a trial basis in future without needing to seek approval from the general membership.
Reforms approved by the AGM included trialling best-of-three-set matches in place of the present best-of-five-set matches in the Davis Cup and guaranteeing the finalists in both Davis Cup and Fed Cup the choice of hosting their first-round tie in the following year.
Kooken added: "Reforms last year were minor compared to this. So I wouldn't expect for it to be a positive outcome."
Australia's Todd Woodbridge, who won two Davis Cup titles during his career, has accused the ITF of revealing the changes without holding talks with those involved.
He told ABC News: “I’ve been around the Australian summer of tennis, Davis Cup, Fed Cup the last seven weeks and I’ve been in the commentary box with Lleyton Hewitt and there was no talk of any of this being thrown like a big bomb into the tennis landscape.
“When you’ve got one of the greatest players in Australia’s Davis Cup history [Hewitt] and the competition’s history and he hasn’t been personally spoken to, you’ve got to ask questions about that due diligence and what is the ITF doing?”
Haggerty insisted that the single city Finals model would offer the greatest certainty to players, noting: “In November 2018, players will know who is playing in November 2019 and they’ll be able to factor that into their plans, travel, and prioritise it. Now, you may know where your first tie is, but you’re not sure where your second would be. You’re not sure of the surface.
“There are some uncertainties and this will bring some clarity to it to help make the commitment to play.”