Davis Cup Vote



By Christopher Clarey

  • Aug. 14, 2018
Even in a divided sport with a surplus of governing bodies, there is finally genuine consensus that Davis Cup needs to change.

The very prickly question, as the International Tennis Federation gathers in Orlando, Fla., this week for its annual general meeting, is just how much change the sport is prepared to accept.

The 118-year-old men’s national team event was long ago a pillar of tennis. It is now a sideshow: good for boosting a few hotbed countries’ morale but not for routinely attracting tennis’s biggest stars or generating consistent global interest and major 21st century revenue.

Under a proposal from the I.T.F.’s president, David Haggerty, and board of directors to be voted on Thursday, the Cup would condense from year-round competition to two weeks, double the total prize money to at least $20 million, and shorten matches to best-of-three sets instead of best-of-five.

Currently, in the top division of Davis Cup, 16 national teams compete over four knockout rounds interspersed throughout the year with a two-team final in November hosted by one of the finalists.

The new Davis Cup, with the backing of a $3 billion commitment over 25 years from the investment group Kosmos, would bring together 18 national teams at a neutral site for a week in November each year. The initial venues would be in Europe to reduce travel concerns for players who participate in the elite ATP Finals in London that month.

There would also be a preliminary round in February comprising 12 head-to-head matches hosted by national federations. The winners of those matches would advance to the 18-team final along with the previous year’s semifinalists and, in one of the more questionable parts of the plan, two wild-card nations selected by the organizers.

All matches in the final phase, which includes round-robin group play with eight teams advancing to the knockout stage, would be decided in three sets instead of the current five. And each matchup would consist of two singles matches and one doubles match rather than the current four singles matches and a doubles match.

Haggerty said the deal is a way to stabilize the I.T.F. economically and increase grass-roots funding for tennis worldwide by giving $25 million annually to the national federations. He said more than $15 million also would be invested in staging the new November event.

After decades of dithering, the proposal on the agenda in Orlando is genuinely radical — far too radical for some. It also needs two-thirds of the votes by 147 I.T.F. member nations to pass. That is a high bar to clear, especially when a handful of traditional tennis nations, including the United States, Britain, France and Australia, have more power by holding 12 votes each.

“I think at this point and time we have the votes, but I don’t underestimate anything,” Haggerty said in a telephone interview from Orlando.

Leaders of three of the four Grand Slam tournaments — Wimbledon, the United States Open and French Open — have backed the new format.

So has Larry Ellison, the American software tycoon who bought the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and turned it into one of the world’s best tournaments. He has pledged to invest in the new Davis Cup project with an eye on bringing the final to Indian Wells in 2021.

But emotions and resistance are running hot, particularly in Australia, where serial success in Davis Cup once played a role in raising remote country’s international profile.

“Most of us agree the Davis Cup needs some tinkering around the edges to ensure the best players play,” said Wally Masur, the former Australian Davis Cup player and captain, “but the radical overhaul in this proposal will decimate over 100 years of tennis tradition that has helped grow the men’s game to this point.”


David Haggerty has made Davis Cup reform a major project of his first term as president of the International Tennis Federation.CreditJean-Francois Badias/Associated Press

The proposal comes in the midst of a turf war with the ATP Tour, which had been in negotiations with Kosmos and is planning a revival of the World Team Cup. The ATP event, if implemented in January 2020, could be a direct competitor and existential threat to the revamped Davis Cup, particularly if the World Team Cup offers ranking points and Davis Cup does not.

Increasing the tension, Tennis Australia, the sport’s governing body in that country, is set to be a partner in the World Team Cup, which would be staged at various sites in Australia before the Australian Open in late January.

That move is driven in part by Tennis Australia’s desire to protect its hold on the early-season tennis calendar. Although Tennis Australia has insisted that the World Team Cup and Davis Cup can coexist, as they did in the past, the project clearly weakens Tennis Australia’s credibility as it calls for rethinking the Davis Cup project.

“Of course it would be in their best interests to delay a decision so a World Team Cup can take place, which could dramatically change the context of Davis Cup,” Haggerty said. “I think there’s a conflict of interest, as do some others, about their objectivity.”

It surely would have been preferable for the I.T.F. to have first tried some less extreme Davis Cup reforms through the years to improve superstar participation: first-round byes for the previous season’s finalists, or even a biennial instead of an annual competition.

Instead, Davis Cup is facing sea change, which may be coming too late if the star players don’t buy in. It is unlikely that both team competitions can thrive in the long term. What the sport needs is cooperation: one major event with united support, not a Davis Cup and World Team Cup with similar formats within six weeks of each other.

Though ATP and I.T.F. leaders have held in-depth discussions about joining forces to stage a single event, no agreement has been reached. The ATP player council threw its support behind the World Team Cup, which the tour would own, at Wimbledon earlier this summer.

The lack of clear player support makes the Davis Cup overhaul even more of a gamble, although Haggerty said existing sponsors are demanding change.

“There are players who are supportive,” he said, citing Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. “And I think that once this is approved, I think that’s when we will see more.”

Haggerty, a former tennis industry executive and president of the U.S.T.A., has made miscalculations in his first term at the I.T.F. by pushing format changes that failed to materialize, like a combined final for the Davis Cup and the Fed Cup, the annual team competition for women. Tensions within the I.T.F. also have increased with some expressing concern that Haggerty, who will be up for re-election next year, has acted too independently.

More recently, he has drawn criticism for his treatment of Bernard Giudicelli, the French Tennis Federation president, who was found guilty of defamation in September last year in France, receiving a fine but no jail sentence.

Giudicelli is a member of the I.T.F. board of directors and chairman of its Davis Cup committee. Though defamation is a civil offense in many nations, it is a criminal offense in France, and as such, should have meant Giudicelli’s removal from the board, according to the I.T.F. constitution.

Instead, he continued to serve in his post and has become a valuable ally to Haggerty with his support of the Kosmos deal, after initially being resistant to major changes. Haggerty said that since mid-July, Giudicelli has no longer exercised the rights of a board member, including voting rights.

The board has proposed an amendment to the constitution, which will be considered in Orlando, that would force board members out only if their offense would constitute a “criminal offense in the majority of jurisdictions in which the sport is played” and if there is a “custodial sentence” or the board feels the member’s continued presence would bring “the I.T.F. into disrepute.”

The amendment has been widely viewed within tennis as an attempt to save Giudicelli. But Haggerty denied favoritism, saying the issue was “being used to interfere with the momentum for the Davis Cup reforms.”

There is indeed plenty at stake in Orlando and not just for Davis Cup, even if that remains the biggest and thorniest subject on the agenda.


I'd just change the name from "Davis Cup" to "Laver Cup" and force Federer and Nadal to pretend they care about it


Hall of Fame
The big boys are making plans and decisions again. They need to have participation and input from the players from the very beginning of this process if they want to make it work and be successful.

Without the enthusiastic participation and support from the players, this might just be change for the sake of change.


Bionic Poster
I'm pretty sure Australia is not supporting these proposals not because they are traditionalists, but because they are supporting the ATP alternative.


Was this a coup secretly orchestrated by the powers to be to make the Davis Cup even more unpopular and to - in the long run - replace it with the Laver Cup?
It seems like a lot more effort is being put into the Laver Cup, with tons of money and fan-baiting, and that the "new" Davis Cup is being promoted as a second rate kind of team tournament.

It wouldn't surprise me, as "money talks", and most of the changes we've seen in football are probably starting to affect tennis.


Hall of Fame
I decided after this year's snooze fest that I'd watched my last Davis Cup and all of the "improvements" aren't changing my mind. They should just do it every 4 years like the World Cup.


it's a semi-exho now, but if the top players participate that will still mean an overall improvement in quality!

will Feder (and Waw) play the qualies in February? Switz-Rus top fixture!

True Fanerer

There's nothing they can do to save it as far as I'm concerned. Between it and the Olympics I'm not sure which one means closer to absolutely nothing.