By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) – The new-look Davis Cup, masterminded by Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique, has the potential to rival golf’s Ryder Cup as a sporting spectacle, the tennis competition’s organizers say.
Under changes to the year-long format, the 118-year-old national team tournament will become a week-long, season-ending event with the first two editions happening in Madrid in 2019 and 2020.
The revamped competition has caused divisions in the sport because it breaks with the tradition of ties hosted by one of the competing nations and threatens the partisan atmosphere the Davis Cup has become renowned for.
But the International Tennis Federation (ITF’s)chief operating officer Kelly Fairweather believes the re-fashioned competition can become one of the most anticipated events in the sporting calendar.
“The kind of thing we have in mind is the Ryder Cup. Look where it has come from to where it is today, there’s a real frenzy about it, it’s amazing, that’s the goal we have,” Fairweather told Reuters in an interview.
“We want it to be a massive event. It’s different to a Grand Slam because it’s national teams but that’s the intention, to make it an event that is a ticket which people want.”
Croatia and France will contest the final edition of the current format of the Davis Cup in Lille at the end of November after winning semi-final ties in September. Fairweather believes the fact that teams involved in the 2019 competition will be known after qualifiers in February boosts its appeal.
“Now, you don’t know where the final is two months before, from the point of view of ticketing, marketing and player planning that’s not great. We want something which is really sought after,” he said.
“The beauty of Wimbledon is everyone knows when it is and where it is and that’s where we want to get to.”
“The advantage we have now is in February we know who will be playing. You’ll have English rugby fans going to Japan for the World Cup so why wouldn’t people come to Madrid to see the best tennis teams in action?”
Pique’s investment group Kosmos has pledged to pour in $3 billion into the Davis Cup over the next 25 years although the footballer’s shake-up of the competition has not been welcomed by everyone.
The 20-times grand slam winner Roger Federer said in August: “It’s a bit odd to see a footballer arrive and meddle in the tennis business.”
But Fairweather described World Cup and Champions League-winning Pique as very open minded. “He’s very articulate and he’s got a vision for things.
“He’s not only a footballer, it’s unfair to describe him as that. He loves sport, he loves tennis and he wants to create something really special. I applaud him for that, and it adds some glamour.
“Our joint objective is to make this a sport entertainment event. The atmosphere at the Davis Cup is completely different to a Grand Slam. It’s raucous – that type of national pride we really want to encourage. We want to make it that sort of event where people come for the broader experience.”
The Davis Cup has long been suffering from a lack of regular participation from the biggest names in the sport, although the revamped competition has been criticized by the likes of Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev for coming at the end of an already unforgiving schedule when most players take time off.
Spanish great Rafael Nadal has given his backing to the competition, however, and Fairweather believes the event can be a success without getting every high-profile player on side.
“You’re never going to please everybody. If you have 18 teams and you have the best nations playing, we’re convinced the collective is bigger than the individual,” Fairweather said.
“The power of a World Cup is underestimated in tennis.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Clare Lovell)