The new era of Davis Cup is about to dawn, grudgingly so for many.
The 119-year-old tournament underwent some radical changes in August last year, drawing clear lines of dispute among the tennis world. But the players, who were not consulted over the new development, and captains will have to take that in stride and prepare for the altered tournament, which kicks off with the 24-team World Group Qualifiers on Friday.
“Now we’re getting run by a Spanish football player, which is like me coming out and asking to change things for the Champions League; it’s ridiculous,” Australia’s non-playing captain Lleyton Hewitt said about Gerard Pique, whose investment company Kosmos had introduced the idea to the ITF, during the build-up to Australia’s tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina. "He knows nothing about tennis.”
The biggest change is that the World Group of the Davis Cup will be played in a single week at a single venue – Madrid, this year – as opposed to the regular home-away knockout ties. To get to that stage though, the events of the coming weekend are important as the remaining 12 of the 18 will qualify for the Finals in November.
The qualifiers this year, though still held in the home-away setting, will be played in a different format. The three-day, best-of-five-set matches will be replaced by a tie being completed in two days, with each of the five rubbers – four singles and one doubles – being played as best-of-three sets.
The format had been tested during the zonal stages in 2018.
The losing teams from this weekend will drop down to their respective zones, while the winners will join the six teams that have already secured their place in the Finals. Defending champions Croatia is the first on that list, followed by runners-up France and two losing semi-finalists from last year Spain and the United States. Along with them are the two wild cards, Argentina and Great Britain.
The qualifiers though have some of the biggest tennis playing nations competing, with some of the game’s biggest players set to participate. The German team will be headed by World No 3 Alexander Zverev, while the Austrians, who host Chile, will be led by World No 8 Dominic Thiem. Then there is the Russian duo of Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, ranked 11 and 16 respectively, Italian Marco Cecchinato who is ranked 18, Canadian southpaw and World No 25 Denis Shapovalov, and baby-faced Australian teenager Alex de Minaur, ranked 28.
One of the reasons the ITF had voted for the Davis Cup changes was to make it more attractive to the top players. But most of them have opted to sit this one out. World No 1 and recently crowned Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will skip Serbia’s away tie to Uzbekistan.
Switzerland will miss the services of 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who played for his country just once after helping them win the 2014 title, and three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka.
World No 7 Kei Nishikori will not compete for Japan in and against China, while World no 14 and 15, Milos Raonic (Canada) and Fabio Fognini (Italy) respectively will skip their countries’ away ties. Also missing is Belgian David Goffin (ranked 21), and former World No 4 Czech player Tomas Berdych.
With the draw being based on a seeding system, most of the ties seem lopsided on paper.
Germany has opted for a strong team with newly-minted World No 3 Alexander Zverev leading the charge. They will also have the services of veteran Philip Kohlschreiber and the big-built Jan-Lennard Struff. Set to play at the Fraport Arena in Frankfurt, the hosts are overwhelming favourites against a Hungarian team that is missing their top player Marton Fucsovics.
Russia will send to Switzerland a young – the eldest player is aged 22 – but impressive team that includes Khachanov, Medvedev and former World No 31 Andrey Rubev, who has currently dropped down to 100 due to break from the tour due to an injury. The visitors at the Swiss Tennis Arena in Biel also have in their squad 14-year-old Konstantin Zhzhenov, who will break Rublev’s record (who was then 16) of being the youngest Russian to play a Davis Cup tie if he does get a chance.
Arguably the closest tie, on paper, will take place in Ostrava, where the Czech Republic will host the Dutch. With Tomas Berdych giving the Davis Cup a miss, Jiri Vesely and Lukas Rosol are likely to take on the singles duties for the hosts. Robin Hasse, meanwhile, will spearhead the Dutch challenge. The visitors also have a strong doubles team in Jean-Julien Rojer and Matwe Middelkoop.
The Davis Cup World Group Qualifiers will be played across the world, from China hosting Japan and Australia’s tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the eastern end of the map, to Brazil’s tie against Belgium and Colombia playing Sweden in the far west.
The Davis Cup party is stretched across the globe for this February window, till the top 18 teams descend upon Madrid for the first ever Finals of the new Davis Cup. Ready or not, here they come.
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Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 09:42:33 IST