Davis Cup and Fed Cup are the two tennis tournaments that allow tennis players to represent their country and participate in a team event, which is a rarity throughout the calendar of a tennis player. There is always something rather special about those events and some would argue that they offer a lot to tennis players that you do not necessarily see at the ATP and WTA events, where players play primarily for themselves both financially and in terms of the results they get week-in and week-out.
Davis Cup was founded 117 years ago, but in recent years has been viewed as team event that is very outdated and that has not exactly moved with the times, and with that outrage, it has encouraged a desire for reformation among many people. The same can be said for the Fed Cup. The Fed Cup is relatively new in comparison to the Davis Cup, but issues with scheduling and the inability to attract the best players in the world has led to the latest decision by the ITF to push forward plans of drastic changes to both competitions.
When influencing change in any sport. First of all you have to weigh up whether those changes create long term positives for that change, but secondly, you have to consider whether altering specific things can actually take away something special about the topic in question. I think that is a problematic feature happening with Davis Cup and Fed Cup now.
The ITF is making the necessary changes to make the Fed Cup and Davis Cup finals a combined event at the end of the season, but that’s not the only change. That particular event is set to take place in Geneva at the end of the regular season, so in effect, it will be played on a neutral ground, which is a huge change for the two international team events.
In years gone by, looking at what Davis Cup and Fed Cup have given to many tennis fans and players alike, the atmosphere of a partisan crowd is like no other. You just don’t see that regularly enough on the regular tours, which actually makes these two tournaments stand alone and unique in a certain way.
How many times have we witnessed electric atmospheres with exuberant, passionate tennis fans getting behind their own players in their host country? Sometimes it brings out the best in some players and other times it can lead to players being able to handle the occasion and succumb to the expectation. But that is Davis Cup and Fed Cup, and making those considerable alterations really hurts both products, because as a result it alienates the fans and players that have watched and played those tournaments for years and years. Why fix the part that isn’t broken?
Another change that is gaining momentum is the decision to make the Davis Cup a best-of-three competition rather than a best-of-five one. That decision will be finalized in August if universally agreed upon. Again, the team event has spent years and years following a best-of-five format, so why make such a drastic change to a competition that most players still look at fondly and with a smile of appreciation.
The reasoning behind that decision-making is because of the need for the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic to commit to play on a regular basis. The acceptance of those players makes the tournament more prestigious, elevates that team competition, and it will have countless benefits from a financial standpoint. Those four players help put bodies on seats, whichever way you look at it.
That’s the challenge going forward for Davis Cup. Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka won the Davis Cup in 2014 with Switzerland, Andy Murray won it in 2015, and it almost feels like once a top player attains the Davis Cup trophy for the first time, it is becoming a real struggle for them to be motivated to play regularly and consistently.
So where do I think Davis Cup can make necessary changes to make the competition more realistic, lucrative, and enticing for the top players? The competition is seen as ‘the World Cup of Tennis’ so why not schedule the tournament similarly to the World Cup in football? A tournament every four years would be less taxing on the body, but would elevate on a platform that everyone would respond positively to it.
On the other hand, you could argue that the beauty of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup is that it gives lesser-ranked players the opportunity to create great moment for themselves, which they have yet to accomplished individually on the tour. Not everything is about the big players in my eyes. A good example of that is the rise of Aliaksandra Sasnovich for her country Belarus in this year’s Fed Cup. She’s been a revelation while representing her country and has guided Belarus to their first ever Fed Cup Final.
The changes could encourage more issues than what the ITF were originally dealing with. Switzerland is a very expensive country, so the living costs will be substantially higher than most other destinations and the price of the tennis tickets for the event won’t come cheap. Will this change actually provide a greater stumbling block than what it is actually worth? I agree that there are some slight adjustments that need to be considered, but these dramatic makeovers are only risking alienating real tennis fans that love everything that Davis Cup and Fed Cup represent year upon year.