The Davis Cup must be the sport’s most famous and prestigious annual trophy. Part of that fame and prestige is embodied in how difficult it is for the players themselves to explain what it is that puts them under pressure that sometimes seems to be more difficult to assimilate than at Wimbledon, Roland Garros, the Masters or any other of those tournaments in which fame and millions of dollars are at stake simultaneously.
This inexplicable paradox has something in common with what happens to many tennis players with the Olympic Games:
Money at stake? At most, something symbolic.
Points for the ranking? Sporadically, there were; usually not even.
Image credit for sponsors? Hardly anything; there are many cases in which the player could not even use models that identify him with the brand that sponsors them.
There must be several possible explanations to understand why mega-champions of the circuit have either dodged Davis (the absences of Jimmy Connors, for example, were part of the controversy with the omnipresent John McEnroe) or did not achieve the standard of performance in other major tournaments (Novak Djokovic has 24 Grand Slam titles and only one Olympic bronze medal). Personally, I choose two. One, that pressure between fascinating and intangible, that it is to play, basically, for the sport of your country. Another, which stands out above all in Davis, is to face the challenge of making an individual contribution to a team competition.
However, the competition created more than a century ago by the American lawyer Dwight Davis is going through complex times and, at worst, there are suspicions that the conflict is just beginning and promises to escalate.
Regarding the origins, a curiosity. In many countries and for a long time, people wanted to make people believe in an almost childish story according to which, on the occasion of a match between North American and British friends, a young Dwight stole a punch bowl from an aunt and turned it into the prize in dispute. Far from all unforesight and mischief, the trophy is neither a punch nor a salad bowl, but a beautiful piece of silverware commissioned by Davis himself from the company responsible for carving the White House’s dishes. Heartwarming? not even a comma.
After the group stage for the title and the pre-qualifying phase of the immediately lower categories, the tournament finds itself at the crossroads that, while it continues to compete, no one has the slightest idea what the format will be starting next year. For now, the idea is to wait for the appointment of the new authorities of the International Tennis Federation in the coming days in Mexico. Then, we will see what to do with the disaster left by the legacy of the unexpected, premature and improper decision of the company Kosmos, represented by retired Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique, who went from promising an investment of 3 billion dollars over 30 years to not enduring more than three editions under his organization.
What seemed to be the financial solution for a competition whose commercial success was threatened by the absence of certain figures at the different stages of the tournament turned into a nightmare whose legal conflict is far from being resolved.
While it is logical to place the primary responsibility for the disaster on Kosmos, the ITF also did not limit an original competition system that led to absurdity such as the fact that, in the original 2019 edition, the decisive phase involved 18 teams and the competition was reduced to a week of games, several of which ended well into the morning. It was fascinating to see a legion of stars led by Rafael Nadal and Djokovic himself in a Madrid Magic Box full of crowds. As much as it was exhausting for everyone, so much activity all together in the same place.
The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced all activity to be suspended just after the qualifying series, as the winners of those matches had to wait about 18 months to compete in the finals that were held in three different venues in Spain, Austria and Italy. Finally, in 2022, the last year in charge of Kosmos, the group stage of the competition for the title was held in four different venues while, from the quarterfinals to the final, a fifth place was used on a different date.
Admittedly, it is very difficult for the ITF to achieve a logical result in its calendar battle with the ATP. By the way, tennis players do not always seem to be properly consulted about their intentions to play Davis Cup and, in this way, not to encourage the overpopulation of tournaments that, in turn and with all logic, intend to count the main figures in their main draws.
Anyway, just as many fans idealize the charm of the cup, from certain desks, some sports bureaucrats demonize it to the level of pretending little less than its disappearance.
To this day, we don’t see a simple solution. For now, radically modifying the current scheme is already complicated by the fact that, in the preliminary elections that should be held next February, 14 series are stipulated whose winners would be added to this year’s finalists and two special guests. More than that, the ATP 2024 calendar itself includes that date and two others for the development of the cup year. Identical scheme to the current one. Difficult to sustain financially beyond the ITF obtaining significant redress in court after the defection of Kosmos.
Finally, there is a recurring tendency to emphasize the absence of figures in the Davis series.
To begin with, in the matches that have just ended, half of the 20 in the world played. Including Djokovic, Rune, Tsitsipas and Sinner.
Finally, it’s clear that paying for a ticket or sitting in front of the TV doesn’t matter if number one plays or if number fifty plays. But when it comes to competencies of such magnitude, what those present can give matters much more than what the absent will no longer give.
It happens at Wimbledon. It happens at Roland Garros. It happens in the Davis Cup.