The old salad bowl – or le vieux saladier as the French call it – got a good shaking up last week when the International Tennis Federation (ITF) voted, at its annual general meeting in Orlando, Florida, to introduce a new Davis Cup format in 2019.
Davis Cup dates back to 1900 when Harvard student Dwight Davis donated a cup in his family name for a tennis competition between Great Britain and the United States.
It soon evolved into the premier international team event in the sport, and in 2018 a total of 132 nations took part.
Until the 1960s it was the equal of any event in tennis but gradually the Grand Slam tournaments grew in stature to the point where they now dwarf Davis Cup.
In recent decades the old salad bowl, which can hold a maximum of 37 bottles of champagne for celebration purposes, has lost its lustre because many of the top players have chosen not to participate.
That can be traced back to American renegade Jimmy Connors in the 1970s and more recently to Boris Becker and Pete Sampras in the 1990s as well as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic over the past decade.
In Orlando, the ITF voted for a change that means 18 nations will gather from November 18-24 next year in Europe – Madrid or Lille, France – to play in a one-week competition for the 118-year-old trophy.
The four semi-finalists from this year – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – will automatically be in the 2019 draw with 12 teams added from the winners of first-round ties played in early February (2019), as well as two countries which will be awarded wild cards.
At the single-site final, there will be four days of round-robin play in six groups of three with the six winners, plus the two other top finishers, reaching the quarter-final stage. Each match-up will be two singles and a doubles played in a best-of-three-sets format.
The traditional nation versus nation, home-and-away system will be retained for the first round of competition in February, with winners promoted to the new year-end Davis Cup finals.
As far as Canada is concerned, if it wins its World Group Playoff versus the Netherlands from September 14-16 at the Coca Cola Coliseum in Toronto, it will play next February, after the Australian Open, in a tie (home or away) that will be best-of-five matches played over two days with each match being best-of-three sets.
If Canada loses in September, it may still earn a place in the February round if it’s ranked first, second or third in the Americas zone (it is currently second behind Argentina and ahead of Colombia with the USA already guaranteed a spot in the 2019 finals.)
If Canada loses against the Netherlands and doesn’t get a spot in the February (2019) round, it will play in an Americas Zone I tie in September, 2019.
There are also those two wild cards that will be awarded for the 2019 final, so Canada could possibly be eligible for one of those if it has not qualified.
Change is always been resisted by some and the French and Australians, two of the original Davis Cup champion nations (along with the U.S. and Great Britain), were not in favour of the Davis Cup shake-up at the ITF AGM last week.
But change has come and now there’s one ‘elephant in the room’ to deal with. The Davis Cup final next year will be immediately after the ATP Finals in London.
Each year the top eight players arrive in London for the O2 Arena grand finale pretty well at the end of their ropes both mentally and physically. Expecting them to suddenly gear up just days after the ATP Finals for such an important event as Davis Cup simply doesn’t make sense. In an era when there are concerns about players staying fit and healthy, how can they be expected to put out a maximum effort two weeks in a row, at two different locations, at the tail end of the season?
The only sensible places on the schedule for such a major competition would be either in March – around the time of the current BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California – or early April. The other option would be in late September or October after the US Open.
But with “intractable” being the operative word – and it has been for decades – when it comes to the professional tennis calendar, good luck in trying to find an appropriate date, particularly with the Laver Cup team event now slotted in two weeks after the US Open.
Additionally, the ongoing feud between the ITF and the ATP World Tour, which has plans to introduce a World Team Cup international team event in January, creates and even greater headache.
How the World Team Cup, tentatively scheduled for the very first week of the 2020 new year, makes sense is hard to figure. Are players really supposed to get pumped for such an important event right out of the gate in the new season when that’s usually a time when they gradually build up and tune up for the Australian Open two weeks later?
At the moment, the beginning of each new season has a low-key feel as players ease back into action in Doha, Brisbane and Prune (India) or at the Hopman Cup in Perth.
The latter event is a throwback to a more collegial time in tennis – a fun happening that allows players to find their form at a measured pace before Melbourne Park. It certainly hasn’t hurt Roger Federer the past two years as he gone on both times to win the Australian Open three weeks later.
Obviously the Davis Cup changes and the proposed World Team Cup are largely about money. The Davis Cup deal involves a massive $3 billion (US) over 25 years and the World Team Cup is surely going to offer sums that will be hard to resist for the players.
The solution? It’s naive to think the ITF and the ATP could come to their senses and combine their efforts – but that’s the way out. If they join forces it would surely be possible to find a date that would work for everyone, most importantly the players.
But what are the chances of that happening? “Intractable” has been the apt descriptive for the yearly tennis schedule for half a century – and sadly that appears unlikely to change anytime soon.
The draw for the 2018 US Open will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday the 23rd at Brookfield Place in Manhattan. Three Canadians are directly into the main draw – No. 25-ranked Milos Raonic is playing his seventh US Open, No. 28 Denis Shapovalov his second and No. 88 Vasek Pospisil his seventh.
Canadian women competing in this week’s qualifying event, with their first-round opponents in brackets, are Genie Bouchard (Carol Zhao), Carol Zhao (Genie Bouchard), Francoise Abanda (Jessika Ponchet of France) and Bianca Andreescu (Olga Danilovic of Serbia). As for the men it’s Felix Auger-Aliassime (Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands), Peter Polansky (Sergio Gutierrez-Ferrol of Spain) and Filip Peliwo (Marcel Granollers of Spain).
Of note here, the 22-year-old Griekspoor (or his older brother Scott, 27) could be singles or doubles players for the Netherlands when it faces Canada in a Davis Cup World Group Playoff from Sept. 14-16 in Toronto.
And for those slightly-twisted fans following the Polansky ‘lucky loser’ quest – in order for him to be in the running for a fourth consecutive Grand Slam lucky loser spot in 2018, he will have to win two rounds and then lose to one of the following four potential opponents: No. 152 Mats Moraing, 26, (GER); old junior rival No. 242 Donald Young, 29, (USA); No. 254 Maximilian Neuchrist, 27, (AUT) or No. 144 Simone Bolelli, 32, (ITA).
There will be some intrigue when the main draw is done on Thursday with big names such as No. 101-ranked Stan Wawrinka, No. 378 Andy Murray and No. 35 Sam Querrey being dangerous floaters because they aren’t seeded.
The most notable unseeded women are not quite as prominent but include No. 80 Victoria Azarenka, No. 41 Donna Vekic and No. 46 Johanna Konta.
A year ago there was an all-time first-rounder when an unseeded Maria Sharapova (now ranked No. 21) played world No. 2 Simona Halep and won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in an opening-night match.
Want to know something crazy? 1 year ago I was asked to be a hitting partner at Van Open. I hadn’t told anyone, but I was thinking of returning to tennis. For me the tournament was a… https://t.co/iXDwwm45IM
— Rebecca Marino (@beccamarino90) August 20, 2018
Rebecca Marino reached the quarter-finals of the $100,000 (US) VanOpen in her hometown last week, moving her ranking up to No. 265.
(Feature photo: Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada)