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Controversy trails Davis Cup finals

By Tobi Awodipe
27 November 2021   |   2:56 am
The on-going Davis Cup Finals has again been hit with more problems, as players and coaches are at war with the new owners of the tournament, ex-Barcelona football star, Gerard Pique’s Kosmos Tennis.

Players, Captains Kick Against Pique’s Kosmos Tennis

The on-going Davis Cup Finals has again been hit with more problems, as players and coaches are at war with the new owners of the tournament, ex-Barcelona football star, Gerard Pique’s Kosmos Tennis. The tournament had suffered several controversies since it took off in 2019.

The latest controversy is said to have sparked off following plans by Kosmos to move the tournament to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. Many players, including team captains are said to have kicked against it.

World No 1, Novak Djokovic, said on Thursday at the start of the tournament, that he supports the multi-city staging of the finals, but kept mum over if he was in support of moving it to the Middle East. Great Britain’s captain, Leon Smith, has however, called for dialogue over the format going forward, adding that the Middle East wasn’t on the cards for them now.

After a two-year hiatus caused by COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament returned on Thursday with group stages holding in Madrid, Turin and Innsbruck.

Following a lucrative but highly controversial takeover of the competition by Kosmos Group in 2018, it switched from home and away ties to a World Cup-style finals event, a move that many players are still angry about.

One of the players is Australian tennis legend, Lleyton Hewitt, who has labelled the tournament as “ridiculous,” saying a long-term move to the Middle East would be effectively “selling the soul” of the iconic event.

His country’s campaign is already in tatters as they suffered a 3-0 loss against Croatia in Italy yesterday. Australia, who has won the Davis Cup 28 times, takes on Hungary in a slim hope to qualify for the semi finals.

The World Group stage, in which Australia is participating, takes place over the course of one week at a single location, instead of home and away ties. Reverse singles rubbers have also been scrapped to make the match-ups shorter. But the most controversial change was to do away with best of five sets matches in favour for best of three — a change that was slammed by many former players and traditionalists including Hewitt.

There is speculation the Davis Cup could be held in Abu Dhabi for five years in what would be a hugely lucrative for Pique’s Kosmos Tennis. Hewitt, who was part of two Davis Cup-winning Australian teams in 1999 and 2003, said any such move would be “selling the soul of the Davis Cup. The Davis Cup was held in the highest regard, up there with the pinnacle of our sport in tennis, with matches played over five sets. We threw that out the door and then we’ve thrown the home and away out the door as well. Playing a qualifying tie here or there, best of three sets, is not the same as having home and away, main draw matches over the year.

“I’ve been pretty vocal about the whole thing for the last four or five years now. This is a wonderful stadium here, but no crowd to watch, it’s not what Davis Cup is about.

Hewitt said he wasn’t holding out any hope he or any other captains would be consulted on any further changes to the competition.
“We didn’t have input four years ago, so I’m not sure it’s going to matter now. It’s being run by a soccer player and his company and it’s completely different to anything tennis has been through in the past. The ITF (International Tennis Federation) didn’t come to me and ask my thoughts or pretty much any Australian who has had pretty much the richest tradition in this competition for over 100 years.”

But despite his concerns, the two-time grand slam winner said there was no way he would consider boycotting the Davis Cup. “I haven’t ever thought about boycotting Davis Cup or matches for our country. It’s lost something really special about it but these guys get an opportunity to wear the green and gold and the chance to play for Australia,” he said in an on-court interview.

The inaugural tournament in Madrid in 2019 attracted a very low crowd, a packed schedule, and late night finishes (because of TV times), which needed a rethink. This has resulted in the group stages being played across three cities over a longer time frame before the climax of the event in Madrid next weekend.

“The Davis Cup should be experienced by more people. So, I’m in favour of this year’s format and that there are more countries that can host group ties. I didn’t think the format worked very well two years ago,” Djokovic said.

However, Britain’s captain, whose side will play their Group C ties in Innsbruck, said he wanted more dialogue with the ITF (International Tennis Federation) and Kosmos, about the format going forward.

Smith and his team, which is led by British No 1, Cameron Norrie, arrived in Innsbruck last weekend ahead of matches against France yesterday and the Czech Republic tomorrow. He went on to add that playing in front of an empty stadium could have a real impact in a competition that is based on partisan support but despite this drawback, they were determined to do their best.