In 96 days the next Grand Slam event will begin in Melbourne (above) – and before that happens some very important matters will hopefully be settled.
The operative word is ‘hopefully’ because the current stalemate over team events between the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the ATP World Tour (ATP) isn’t trending toward a conciliatory resolution.
Dates on the yearly calendar are a major issue as the ITF attempts to overhaul the Davis Cup with a culminating event involving 18 nations taking place at the end of 2019, from the 18th to the 24th of November.
The ATP is countering with a competition – the World Team Cup (WTC) – tentatively planned for the first week of the new year in 2020. It claims to be reviving a team event formerly held in Dusseldorf, Germany, right before the French Open. But that WTC on clay was just a glorified exhibition tune-up that players – Pete Sampras was a prime example back in the day – used to get ready for Roland Garros. Proof of its inconsequence was the fact that Spanish players won eight of 10 French Open titles between 2003 and 2012 (the last year of the WTC) and not once in all those years was Spain a winner, or even a runner-up, in Dusseldorf.
Clearly the ideal situation would be for the ITF and the ATP to come to a consensus and just have one international team event. There have been conversations to that end but so far there are too many sticking points. A group headed by Spanish football (soccer) star Gerard Piqué – the Kosmos group – has agreed to a $3 billion deal over 25 years to promote and run the new Davis Cup.
That kind of mega money – and who knows just how deep and strong the pockets of Kosmos are? – is bound to make the various parties eager for their slice of the pie.
There’s also the issue of whether top players will play. Surely Kosmos is not putting up all that money for an event that won’t have the biggest names in the sport. None is bigger than Roger Federer at the moment and he doesn’t seem inclined to play the 2019 Davis Cup…if Switzerland manages to win its qualifying round at home against Russia in February. One reason is that the new Davis Cup final is currently slotted in the week following the ATP Finals in London, an event he usually qualifies for and that’s physically draining for a man who’ll be 38 years old at this time next year. Second in terms of team events, his principal commitment is to the Laver Cup right after the US Open. Third, he has only played one (in September, 2015) of Switzerland’s last eight ties since his country’s Davis Cup triumph in November, 2015.
Novak Djokovic, just re-elected as president of the ATP Player Council, is also a question mark, especially because ATP players seem favourably inclined toward the January WTC kick-off event planned for Australia. And the 31-year-old would only be eligible for the 2019 Davis Cup final if Serbia, playing away, beats Uzbekistan next February 1-2.
Rafael Nadal is a possibility because Spain, 2018 semi-finalists, has already automatically qualified among the 18 nations for final to be held in Madrid. But history shows that late-season Rafa and hard-court events are usually mutually exclusive.
Without the big names, a principal reason for the revamped Davis Cup format, the event will be fighting an uphill battle.
The other problem with both the Davis Cup and the WTC is the current overloaded yearly calendar, which is strung together as tightly as a racquet can be without the strings popping.
Davis Cup officials would ideally like the second week after the US Open – but it’s currently occupied by the highly-successful Laver Cup and two ATP International Series tournaments. And neither the Laver Cup management nor the ATP is likely to relinquish their dates.
As for the WTC date the first week of the new year – it seems awfully premature after the off-season for a competition aspiring to legitimacy as well as too close to the Australian Open. Historically players prefer gentler warm-ups before Melbourne Park.
It’s been written here many times that the yearly tennis calendar is intractable – there just seems no way to change it because of the sanctions that tournaments have as well as those four immutable cornerstones – the dates for the Grand Slams.
Most tennis fans would love to see a Davis Cup competition operating at maximum strength with all the best players and nations competing.
But think of the Democrats and the Republicans in the USA at the moment – and think of the ITF and the ATP. Hopefully the latter two have a greater possibility of compromise and reconciliation – so that something can be worked out for the overall benefit of the men’s game and its constituents.
Below are the comments on Tennis.com following a recent Steve Tignor post dealing with Fernando Verdasco’s shabby treatment of a ballboy during a match in Shenzhen, China, two weeks ago.
If you’re looking for a new favourite player, the reactions that follow might influence your choice:
C.J. Stark: In Rafa & Thiem’s US Open QF match, I remember Thiem saying ‘Thank You’ to the ball kids almost every time they handed him his towel. Classy guy
Tom Potter: I remember that too. He also bounced the balls he didn’t use to the kids instead of just rolling them haphazardly. Gotta like this guy.
Quang Ngufen: Amen!
Robert Kingsland: Agree 100 percent
Here’s a letter from Jon Wertheim’s Tennis Mailbag at SI.com last week that gives a remarkable perspective on the Rafael Nadal – Roger Federer – Novak Djokovic era.
We all talk about the domination of the Big Three (sometimes Four) in men’s tennis, and there can be no better illustration than this: I like to look at the rankings once in a while, see who’s moving up or down, and this week Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are ranked, respectively, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Something made me take a look at the ranking from the same week 10 years ago and guess what? (You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?) Yup. Nadal, Federer and Djokovic were ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 that week as well. No other player was ranked in the top ten then and now, just those three, occupying the exact same positions. Obviously there have been some ups and downs in-between, but my goodness! Are these guys good, or what?
—Gavin Spencer, NYC
— Santiago Pereyra (@SantiPereyr) October 5, 2018
It doesn’t quite have the panache of a Nick Kyrgios ‘between-the-legs’ shot, but this effort by Malek Jaziri has a cachet of its own – particularly because he went on to upset world No. 5 Sascha Zverev 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-4 in the second round of the China Open in Beijing last week.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) October 4, 2018
Andy Murray waxes eloquent on two-handed backhands.
When the world's tallest 🏀 player meets the world's tallest 🎾 player.
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) October 6, 2018
Senegalese basketballer Mamadou Ndiaye and tennis player Ivo Karlovic size up each other during the Monterrey (Mexico) Challenger last week.
La Maestra dando clases. pic.twitter.com/C2ISUhYQqB
— Luciano E. Giliberti (@LEG23) October 8, 2018
She was one of the best and most beloved players of the 1980s and 1990s. Gabriela Sabatini won the 1990 US Open and is still a legend in her home country of Argentina. Now 48, here she is working with kids in her native land under a caption reading “The teacher giving lessons.”