The curtain comes down on this Davis Cup group stage and everything remains at the same point: nobody is happy. Reactionaries and nostalgics argue that the new format has devoured the essence of competition, while supporters of the new model stumble over the imperfection and flaws of a system that, after all, is at the mercy of the illogic of the calendar. Beyond the appeal of Djokovic, always a hook, this latest episode does not help to clear the unknowns that accompany the change established four years ago, in the same way that the original formula had collapsed – after 119 years of immobility – and disaffection was widespread. Therefore, neither one nor the other approve and meanwhile the Davis is still in the air, wrapped one year and the next also by the runrún.
Noise, comments and criticism prevail over the game. Absences or reproaches are more important than action. In Valencia, Manchester, Bologna and Split, the four venues chosen as platforms for access to the final November, these days have weighed more debate and darts than facts; Also, the stands predominantly empty on weekdays. The Spanish elimination – in the end, a victory in three series after this Sunday's triumph over South Korea (2-1) – will be associated with the resignation of Carlos Alcaraz, "tired" the Murcian after the summer tour, and the panoramic look highlights that only one of the ten best tennis players in the world – Djokovic, 36 years old and recently crowned in New York – agreed to compete in search of classification.
Djokovic ends a decayed Spain
"Thank you, Gerard Piqué and ITF," said Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka ironically on Tuesday, seasoning his message with a video recorded by himself in which he showed the semi-empty pavilion in Manchester. "Attendance last year to the group stage. You can compare it yourself, Stan. We don't organize it anymore. Ask the ITF ...", replied the footballer, now retired, with the graph of spectators who last year attended the group stage, 113,268. "Davis Cup trivia question: Did you know that the ITF is paying people to make noise and support countries in every game?" the tennis player returned to the charge on Sunday, this time pointing directly to the world's highest body and reaffirming his accusation before the disbelief of the reactions.
Wawrinka, during the series between Switzerland and Great Britain in Manchester.ADAM VAUGHAN (EFE)
Piqué the entrepreneur and his company, Kosmos, landed in 2019 in the world of tennis as a revolution. He was going to achieve what no one had achieved before, after more than a century of statism: shake up the inflexible structures of the ITF and a sport as traditional as tennis. Financially backed by his friend Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of the Japanese company Rakuten, he seduced the American David Haggerty, at the head of the international organization, and after achieving an approval close to 80% in the assembly that was held in Orlando to give the green light or deny the transformation, he celebrated his pharaonic dream in style. "This is the project of my life," he told EL PAÍS during a subsequent meeting in New York.
Kosmos: losses and breakup
The fact is that the Catalan did not enter on the right foot. Despite surrounding himself with professionals such as Galo Blanco, Albert Costa or Fernando Verdasco, he was always seen as an intruder in the world. And he landed his way, stoking Roger Federer. "The legs give him what they give him," he slipped during an event in Madrid when he learned that the new idea did not finish convincing the Swiss. Despite the coldness of some totems in the reception, he and Kosmos shaped what happens today, although introducing successive tweaks from edition to edition. Roughly speaking, the new system was based on a series of qualifiers in February, home and away, in the traditional style; a group stage that was initially integrated into the final and then divided into four venues; and the November resolution, first in Madrid and now in Malaga, as last year.
"I liked the old format better," said Boris Becker this weekend, during an event of the Laureus Awards in Seville. "Whoever came up with these rules has no idea about tennis. I hope they have a moment and decide in favor of our sport. We have to go back, with home and away matches; that was a special atmosphere," said the German, recalling the series that his team gave in 2018 at the Plaza de Toros in Valencia. More forceful was the Frenchman Julien Benneteau, coach of the French women's team: "How dare you speak? You have killed, together with the ITF, one of the pillars of tennis. At least close your mouth, please." And nothing was left in the Wawrinka inkwell: "I would love to understand how it is possible that, with Davis being such a big success last year, the 25-year agreement ended in only five..."
Image of a stand in Bologna during Italy-Sweden.CIRO DE LUCA (REUTERS)
The Swiss (38 years old) was referring to the maneuver that Kosmos made in January of this year, when he broke the contract he had signed in exchange for 2,500 million euros. Piqué wanted to nip the losses in the bud, denounced that the ITF demanded an annual fee of about 40 and the rupture ended up in court, with lawsuits on both sides. At the moment, there is no failure. In any case, the ITF opted to maintain the model – similar to that of a World Cup – and this week the more or less veiled criticisms of the protagonists have been reproduced.
To the queue
"You can't blame Pique for the change. If there's anyone to blame, it's the ITF, because they approved the decision. This format is not ideal. The previous one had to be changed, but we have to find the balance at an intermediate point between the previous and the current one," Djokovic said in Valencia, where Spanish captain David Ferrer suggested that playing during the week was counterproductive and other representatives of the team stressed the need for adjustments. "I think we should give it a spin. We have been lucky to play at home [Madrid in 2019 and 2021, 2022 and 2023 in Malaga], but other teams have not, and that is very important. Being on the weekend, I earned a lot; people work...", said Bernabé Zapata. "All formats have positive and negative things. We can't complain because we're at home, but we can complain about playing fast... You would have to look for something."
The current director of the competition, Feliciano López, considers that "this is the ideal format" and aspires to correct the deficiencies over time, while recalling that there were numerous voices calling for the renewal of the old system. The Toledan is right, who, however, is fully aware that the fit of the competition in the calendar is forced because both the number and the extension of the regular tournaments continue to grow, the dates are reduced and the Finals must be scheduled at the tail, overlapping with the Masters Cup – attended by the best players – and when the tennis players are already exhausted after the transfer of all the season. It should be remembered that the Davis Cup distributes cash prizes – both to the participants and their federations – but not points for the ranking of the men's circuit.
THE ELECTORAL BACKGROUND
The problem can be extrapolated to what happens with the Billie Jean King Cup – the women's version, former Federation Cup – and resonates these days of electoral background. On 24 September, the ITF elections will be held in Cancun, where two candidates will be contested: Haggerty and Germany's Dietloff von Arnim.
The American, 65 years old and manager since 2015, will stand for re-election defending that, despite everything, he and his team have been able to launch and provide stability to the new format. After the break with Kosmos, its board opted for the company Tennium for the organization of the group stage and the Finals (from November 21 to 26).
Dietloff von Arnim, for his part, harshly criticizes the current functioning and argues that "tennis has fragmented", instead of working associatively. The 63-year-old German lawyer promotes "unity" while some undercurrents try to promote his candidacy by giving him a presence in the media showcase.
In strictly competitive terms, those qualified for the Malaga event are: Canada, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Serbia, Finland and the Netherlands. On the last day, Spain scratched a victory against South Korea (2-1) thanks to the triumphs of Bernabé Zapata (6-4 and 7-5 to Seong-Chan Hong) and Alejandro Davidovich (double 6-4 to Soon-Woo Kwon). The doubles formed by Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos lost to Ji-Sung Nam and Min-Kyu Song 6-7(2), 7-6(6) and 10-8.
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