‘It will spell the death of Davis Cup’
THE future of Davis Cup, one of the pillars of international tennis, hangs in the balance as Tennis Australia fights a desperate rear-guard action to save the historic competition.
The International Tennis Federation wants to revamp the tournament, reducing the world's largest annual team's event to a one-week contest annually in one city.
The move has polarised the tennis community, horrifying traditionalists who point to the 118-year-old competition's rich history.
Australia has won the competition 28 times.
Tennis Australia is vehemently opposed to the radical revamp and will vote against the amendments at ITF's annual general meeting in Orlando this week, accusing the sport's peak governing body of a lack of transparency.
Tennis Europe, a regional governing body representing 50 member nations, will also oppose the plans to diminish the Cup into an 18-team contest to be held in November next year.
The ITF needs a two-thirds majority to carry the amendment. Ahead of the vote, it is believed the minority is greater than 33 per cent.
The ATP Player Council, led by Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson, voted 9-0 against the proposed format, instead supporting the TA-backed World Team Cup, which will be staged in Australia from January 2020.
Neale Fraser, Australia's longest-serving Davis Cup captain, flew to London in June to meet ITF president David Haggerty in an unavailing attempt to sway the American from pursuing changes which would kill off the Cup.
Lleyton Hewitt and every Australian Cup player apart from Mark Woodforde, who sits on the ITF board, is against the planned change.
Paul McNamee, a member of Cup-winning Australian outfits, will attend the ITF meeting as an International Club observer and doesn't buy suggestions awarding the Davis Cup to winners of the new format will validate it.
"They can say that as much as they like," McNamee said.
"But (after three-set matches over one week) that is not the Davis Cup they've won.
"I believe the five-set home-and-away format of Davis Cup all the way to the final is non negotiable.
"As otherwise, it will spell the death of Davis Cup."
Apart from the ATP Player Council, a host of leading players, are aghast at the move to destroy the equivalent of Test cricket.
French players, dismayed by their federation's intention to vote for change, are prepared to boycott future ties.
The ITF claims the World Cup of Tennis will safeguard the future of the sport as it is being set up in a 25-year, $5 billion partnership with investment group Kosmos and also has the backing of Wimbledon, French and US Open officials.
"The ITF has travelled extensively to consult with all stakeholders in tennis and incorporated their feedback to develop a reform package for the Davis Cup which delivers long-term benefits for players, nations, fans, sponsors and broadcasters," the ITF said.
"Rigorous due-diligence has been undertaken by independent experts and the ITF has complete confidence in its partners, Kosmos, to deliver these transformational reforms."
TA says there is a distinct lack of detail over the new format.
Tennis Europe said there was no clarity about how Kosmos, which was founded by Barcelona and Spain soccer player Gerard Pique, plans to guarantee "US$120 million per year which would be the $3 billion deal over 25 years".
The ITF said: "The reforms the ITF is proposing will secure the Davis Cup's long-term status. The ITF... is the only body in tennis that invests in the future development of tennis and the Davis Cup is critical to generating the revenue to fund this development."
Wimbledon, which has not vote at this week's meeting, is surprisingly against keeping the status quo.
"The tennis landscape has changed significantly from when the Davis Cup competition was set up more than 100 years ago, but its heritage is its strength, and it remains a competition of considerable importance to the players and to the nations participating in it," All England Club and Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook said.
"The AELTC believes that it is in the best interests of tennis to ensure that the Davis Cup has a strong and successful future, and is therefore supportive of the proposals of the ITF and the Kosmos group to address the challenges currently faced by the Davis Cup."
There are suggestions the Davis Cup could be played over two years by expanding the current World Cup from 16 nations to 32.
Under the proposal, the first and second rounds would be contested in the first year with the quarters, semis and final the following year.
The vast majority of Australian players insist Davis Cup was either the highlight of their careers or the foundation stone of major success - and often both.