The International Tennis Federation, the sport’s international governing body, has announced the termination of its Davis Cup partnership with Kosmos Tennis, the investment group of Spanish soccer legend Gerard Pique, just five years into a 25-year, $3-billion agreement.
The ITF struck the deal in 2018 to revamp the ailing men’s national teams tournament, with Kosmos pledging to invest $120 million per year into the tournament and $25 million per year into tennis development globally.
At the time, the ITF said the move would safeguard the future of the sport while delivering “long-term benefits for players, nations, fans, sponsors, and broadcasters.”
Since then, Kosmos, with significant backing from Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, which serves as title sponsor, has made widespread reforms including changing the tournament’s final to an end-of-season ‘World Cup-style’ event and scrapping the traditional home-and-away format.
However, yesterday (January 12), the ITF announced its deal had ended prematurely, with the governing body taking over the management of this year’s Davis Cup on its own.
No reasons have been given for the move, but The Times newspaper has reported the termination was instigated by Kosmos, while a source close to the organization told news outlet AFP both sides could not reach a deal over financial terms going forward.
In a statement, the ITF said: “The ITF can confirm that its partnership with Kosmos Tennis for Davis Cup is ending. The ITF has ensured financial contingencies are in place and as the custodian of the competition, we will operate the 2023 Qualifiers and Finals as scheduled, with the Fina 8 taking place in Malaga, Spain, this November.
“The ITF negotiated a strong deal for tennis in 2018. The partnership increased participation, prize money, and interest in Davis Cup and produced funding to support the global development of our sport.
“As well as being focused on delivering another spectacular edition of the men’s World Cup of Tennis, we are focused on the future growth of the largest annual international team competition in sport.”
Since taking over, Kosmos has largely failed to deliver on its promises to elevate the tournament to a premier event on the global tennis calendar. The last three editions Kosmos has presided over have been dogged by issues including low attendance and scheduling difficulties, as well as top players choosing to skip the event.
Its decision to revamp the tournament's format in 2019 has also come under fire from fans and players, including legend Roger Federer and former world number one Lleyton Hewitt, who feel the move away from the home-and-away ties has destroyed the essence of the tournament.
At the time, Hewitt said: “I think having the finals in one place is ridiculous. Now we’re being run by a Spanish football player … that’s like me coming out asking to change things for the Champions League – it’s ridiculous.”
The tournament, which began in 1900, was traditionally played over four weekends throughout the year in a home-and-away format, where countries would host individual ties against other nations in knockout rounds. Matches were played over three days with four singles and one doubles match. All rubbers were best of five sets.
However, the tournament struggled to attract top players consistently, while hosting ties was challenging financially and logistically for federations, leading to the federation’s pact with Kosmos.
Kosmos replaced the traditional format with just one home-and-away round of ties, followed by 18 teams competing in one city for a week-long, season-ending tournament. The 2020 edition was postponed due to the pandemic.
To boost attendance, broadcast audiences, and investment, organizers continued to make changes to the format, with the 2021 finals held across 11 days in three cities – Madrid, Turin, and Innsbruck.
Last year’s edition, meanwhile, saw 16 teams played in a group stage across four countries in September, before the top eight played the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and final in Malaga, Spain, in November. It was the first year the tournament was added to the calendar of the ATP, the men's top tennis tour.
This year’s Davis Cup format retains the same format as last year.
In August, the ITF announced it had stepped up its post-pandemic financial recovery, generating $66.6 million of income in 2021 – a significant increase from the $35.6 million produced in 2020.
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