The Davis Cup Debate
There is an overriding feeling that the Davis Cup - the premier international team event in men’s tennis - may well have run its course.
The prestigious competition is in danger of being replaced by a proposed ‘World Cup’, a biennial event held over 10 days featuring the top 32 countries.
Despite the best efforts of the International Tennis Federation to alter its format in an attempt to evolve the concept, the reaction of some of the world’s top players to the new plans suggests the end may be nigh.
Britain’s Andy Murray, who in the past has openly voiced concerns on the logistics of playing in the Davis Cup, believes a World Cup-style contest could be a fascinating idea and something new for the calendar.
And Serbian World No3 Novak Djokovic, who sits on the ATP Player Council along with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, is all for the new tournament as long as it improves the sport.
But what constitutes improvements?
In last year’s Davis Cup final, between Spain and the Czech Republic in Barcelona, 16,000 spectators attended every day to emphasise its popularity with the public.
Flags aloft, relentless cheering and a partisan crowd – there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a Davis Cup fixture.
It is impossible to decipher how much interest there would be in a ten-day tournament that takes place once every two years. The Ryder Cup, golf’s equivalent, has a global significance but not only is that played across a long weekend; it also has over a 100 year history.
Currently, the Davis Cup is set over four weekends of the year on a home and away knock-out basis, a structure obviously well suited to encouraging maximum coverage.
The possible future tournament, labelled the ‘Grand Slam of Nations’, is now a viable option due to the high demands of the modern game. The tennis calendar is packed with little to no off season and the stress this has on the body is a major concern.
A programme of best of five set matches, three days in a row, is far from ideal and it is clear the top stars are becoming disinclined to play for their country under these circumstances.
And while playing for your country is supposed to be the pinnacle of a player’s career, unlike other sports, there seems to be a reluctance to join up with the national set-up.
Although the Olympics is not a direct comparison it does highlight the point. Murray admitted to not preparing properly for Beijing and even though Nadal claimed the gold medal, one wonders how much he values it.
It remains to be seen whether the idea gets the go-ahead but certainly the 110-year history of the Davis Cup is well under threat.
A lot will rest on the players who will discuss the subject at next week’s Australian Open and ultimately, whatever they decide is likely to materialise.
Davis Cup Moments in History
1899 Dwight Davis commissions the Davis Cup trophy.
1900 The first Davis Cup tie takes place. USA defeats British Isles 3-0 in Boston.
1903 British Isles defeats USA at the third attempt to lift the trophy.
1904 France becomes the third nation to join Davis Cup.
1905 The fourth Grand Slam nation, Australasia joins Davis Cup.
1907 Australasia becomes the third nation to win the Davis Cup.
1920 Australian Norman Brookes becomes the oldest man to play in a Davis Cup Final, aged 43 years, 48 days.
1924 More than 20 nations compete in Davis Cup for the first time.
1926 USA wins its seventh consecutive Davis Cup - a record number of successful defences.
1927 France’s Four Musketeers win the first of six consecutive Davis Cup titles to end the dominance of Australasia, Great Britain and USA.
1928 Held on grass up to this point, the Davis Cup Final takes place on the clay of Stade Roland Garros for the first time.
1933 Fred Perry leads Great Britain to first of four consecutive title victories.
1939 Australia defeats USA 3-2 in the final after trailing 0-2, the only nation to come back from 0-2 down in a Davis Cup Final.
1967 Australian legend Harry Hopman captains Australia to victory for the 16th time in 22 attempts. Roy Emerson plays on a winning team for a record eighth time.
1968 Australian John Alexander becomes the youngest man to play in a Davis Cup Final, aged 17 years, 177 days.
1969 50 nations participate in Davis Cup.
1972 Final Round introduced so the champion nation now has to compete in every round. Nicola Pietrangeli plays his last Davis Cup tie. The Italian played in 164 Davis Cup matches and won 120 - more than any other player.
1974 After being dominated by four countries for 74 years, South Africa becomes the fifth different nation to win the Davis Cup, and is followed by Sweden, Italy and Czechoslovakia by 1980.
1974 The Eastern Zone Final between Australia and India contains 327 games, the most in any Davis Cup tie.
1980 Bjorn Borg plays his last Davis Cup match, ending on a 33-match unbeaten streak in the competition, strectching back to 1973.
1981 NEC becomes title sponsor enabling prize money to be given. The 16-strong World Group established.Remaining nations participate in Zonal Groups I and II.
1982 The longest match in tennis history (six hours 22 minutes) takes place when John McEnroe (USA) defeats Mats Wilander (SWE) 97 62 1517 36 86 in the 1982 World Group Quarterfinal Round. USA wins the tie 3-2.(This was later surpassed by Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement at 2004 Roland Garros.)
1988-89 Germany wins the Davis Cup for the first time and becomes just the third nation to successfully defend since the abolition of the Challenge Round in 1972. In the 1989 Final, Germany defeated Sweden, which was appearing in its seventh consecutive final.
Zonal Competition Group III is introduced.
1993 100 nations compete in Davis Cup for the first time.
1995 The United States defeats Russia to win a record 31st Davis Cup title - more than any other nation.
1996 The Davis Cup is won in the fifth set of the fifth rubber for the first time when France defeats Sweden in Malmo.
1997 Zonal Competition Group IV is created.
1999 Davis Cup celebrates its Centennial.
2000 Spain becomes only the 10th nation to capture the Davis Cup Trophy, defeating Australia 3-1 in the final.
2001 A record 139 nations participate in Davis Cup.
2002 BNP Paribas takes over as title sponsor. Russia captures its first Davis Cup title against France after Mikhail Youzhny wins the final rubber from two sets down, the second time that the Davis Cup is own in the final set of the final rubber.
2002 The longest men's doubles match of all time takes place during the Russia v Argentina semifinal in Moscow as Lucas Arnold/David Nalbandian defeat Yevgeny Kafelnikov/Marat Safin in 6 hours 20 minutes.
2003 Australia wins its 28th Davis Cup title in December in Melbourne, Mark Philippoussis's heroic performance against Juan Carlos Ferrero in the decisive fourth rubber securing a 3-1 victory over Spain.
2003 The World Group play-off tie between Romania and Ecuador sees all five rubbers go to five sets for just the second time in the competition and the first since 1946.
2004 Andy Roddick breaks the World speed service record three times in Davis Cup play, culminating in a 155mph / 249.4kph delivery during the first singles rubber against Vladimir Voltchkov in USA’s semifinal tie with Belarus. This remains a world record.
2004 The Spain v USA Final at the Estadio Olimpico in Seville set a record for the number of people watching a sanctioned tennis match, with 27,200 packed into the converted soccer stadium each day.
2005 Croatia became the 12th nation to win the Davis Cup by defeating Slovak Republic 3-2 in the World Group Final in Bratislava. Ivan Ljubicic became the first man to win 11 live Davis Cup matches in a year, bettering the previous record of nine live victories. This was the fourth occasion since the abolition of the Challenge Round in 1972 that the defending champion (Spain) and runner-up from the previous year (USA) lost their opening ties.
2006 Dmitry Tursunov's five-set epic victory over Andy Roddick in the World Group semifinal between Russia and USA ends at 17-15, equalling the longest final set in World Group history.
2007 USA wins its 32nd Davis Cup defeating Russia in Portland, Oregon, ending a 12-year gap between Davis Cup successes, the longest in the nation's history.
2007 San Marino's Domenico Vicini breaks Nicola Pietrangeli's record of Davis Cup appearances and wnet on to reach 73 appearances at the end of 2008.
2008 Spain wins its 3rd Davis Cup title in Argentina, to record its first victory on a final away from home. Argentina joined Romania and India as the only nations to reach three or more Davis Cup finals and not win the title.