The Davis Cup is getting a radical makeover in hopes of reviving an event that has lost some luster.
Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.
The International Tennis Federation believes this format will be more attractive to elite players who often pass on competing for their countries because of a crowded schedule.
Teams will play one week in February to advance to the championship in November, replacing the current Davis Cup format that is played over four weekends throughout the year. Players will compete for what the ITF says rivals Grand Slam prize money.
The $3 billion, 25-year agreement was approved Thursday at the organization’s conference in Orlando, Florida. Two-thirds of the delegates needed to vote for the reforms, and 71 percent did.
Beginning in 2019, 24 nations will compete in a home-or-away qualifying round in February, with the 12 winners advancing to the final tournament. They will be joined by the four semifinalists from the previous year, along with two wild-card teams, who need to be in either the top 50 of the Davis Cup rankings or have a top-10 singles player to be eligible.
The finalists will be placed into six, three-team groups for round-robin play, involving two singles matches and one doubles, all best-of-three-sets – instead of the current best-of-five format featuring four singles matches and one doubles. The winners, along with the next two teams with the best records, will advance to the single-elimination quarterfinals.
The first championship will be held on an indoor hardcourt from Nov. 18-24, 2019, in either Madrid or Lille, France. ITF President David Haggerty said he expected that announcement in the next two weeks.
The new event was developed in partnership with the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by Barcelona and Spain soccer player Gerard Pique.
The original plan called for simply an 18-team championship at the end of the year, but was amended after some nations objected to the loss of home-site matches. So those were added to the proposal as the qualifying round, though that still wasn’t enough for critics of the plan who felt neutral-site matches were too much of a change for an event that dates to 1900.
“Those that were opposed were generally opposed because they may believe that home-and-away should be the way that the format is played and always should be every round,” Haggerty said, adding he believed the February qualifying round “gives us the combination of history and tradition that we maintain as well as innovation with the finals.”
The U.S. Tennis Association was among the national federations that backed the changes.
The organization said the new format will “project Davis Cup into the 21st century” and elevate the competition to “the heights it deserves.”
The Americans will play at Croatia in this year’s semifinals in September, with Spain and France meeting in the other semifinals. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal is expected to play for Spain, but Roger Federer has frequently passed on playing for Switzerland.
The new format would cut in half the Davis Cup time commitment. Pique is among those who think the World Cup-style format is the boost the event needs.
“This is the beginning of a new stage that guarantees the pre-eminent and legitimate place that the Davis Cup should have as a competition for national teams while adapting to the demands of this professional sport at the highest level,” he said in a statement.
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