Tennis

Davis Cup overhauled for 2019 with season-ending team event

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.

Men's tennis competition to be decided by 18-team tournament at neutral site

French players celebrate their 2017 Davis Cup championship. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

The Davis Cup is getting a radical overhaul in hopes of reviving an event that has lost some lustre.

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, creating an event that the International Tennis Federation believes will be more attractive to elite players who have often passed on competing for their countries while already facing 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.

And players will be competing for what the ITF says rivals Grand Slam prize money after a $3 billion, 25-year agreement that was approved Thursday at the organization's conference in Orlando, Florida. A spokesman said about 71 per cent of the delegates voted for the reform.

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.

The finalists will be placed into six, three-team groups for round robin play, involving two singles matches and one doubles match, all best-of-three-sets — instead of the current format that has four singles matches and one doubles match that are best-of-five. The winners, along with the next two teams with the best records, will advance to the single-elimination quarter-finals.

1st championship next November

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 new format will project Davis Cup into the 21st century and elevate tennis' premiere annual team competition to the heights it deserves," the USTA said in a statement.

The Americans will play at Croatia in this year's semifinals in September, and Spain and France meet in the other semifinals. Top-ranked Rafael Nadal is expected to play for Spain, but Roger Federer has frequently passed on playing for Switzerland.

Cuts time commitment in half

The new format would cut the Davis Cup time commitment in half. 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.

Critics of the new plan say it involves too much change to fundamental elements of an event that has been around for more than a century.

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