People are scurrying to weigh in on the virtues of the proposed Tennis World Cup, the brainchild of Australian sports consultancy group gemba. The new biennial tournament has already been proposed to players and various interest groups including the LTA, Tennis Australia and the USTA.
Basically, it would be a 32-nation field in round-robin groups of four, with 16 nations progressing to the knockout stage and various other gimmicks alterations to the rules:
Where the concept is truly bold and innovative is that teams would consist of three players and a captain and in each of the single best-of-five-set matches that would decide each tie, at least two players would compete, with one player having to play a minimum of six games.
Thus, if Switzerland met Spain, one or either of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would have to be substituted at some stage, making the role of the captain far more relevant than the banana-peeling, “whisper a few words in the ear at changeovers” role of the present Davis Cup captain.
The no-advantage rule that has been such a success in doubles on the ATP Tour would be replicated in the World Cup and there would be a strictly enforced 25sec gap between points — a clock would be placed on the court so the spectators could see for themselves that the rule was not being flouted, unlike the present situation in which the umpire keeps a check but often overlooks 35 or 40sec gaps in play.
If any set went to a tie-break, it would be decided by the first to five points, with no requirement for a two-point gap. It is believed that no match would last longer than 2½ hours.
The speeding-up of the game and potential controversies as captains alternate their players are among the elements that will appeal to TV companies that are frustrated by the indeterminate length of matches and the youngsters whose attention span is notoriously fickle and who will be more inclined to pick up a racket and play.
The gemba agency will be meeting with ATP president CEO and Adam Helfant next week, but in the meantime, the players are clearly interested in the idea, seeing a way to make their schedules infinitely more manageable while still having the opportunity to represent their country.
“It [the World Cup] is all very fresh and it is all ideas,” he said. “Nothing has been decided. We didn’t decide to put anything on official terms because we have to consider other sides as well. But the main point is that we are trying to make the sport improve and players are the most important.
“I can’t give you too much information because we have to discuss it [in the next two weeks]. Considering the present schedule, which is very busy, something will be sacrificed, but what tournaments, what country, we still don’t know.
“The only thing that I can say is that I’m happy that all the top players are willing to participate in these talks and try to contribute and fight for their own right.”
As he glanced at the World Cup proposals, Nadal said: “Yes, I like it.” When it was mentioned to the Spaniard that the rules would include a strictly enforced 25 seconds between points, one of the game’s notoriously slow players added with a smile: “Perhaps I don’t like it that much.”
“I am a great fan of the Davis Cup, but if a decision was taken to drop it, or something else could change in the calendar, then a World Cup is a fascinating idea,” Murray told The Times yesterday.
“You see the top guys are not able to play all the matches that they would love to play for their nation,” Ljubicic said.
“It is sad. It is because the format is just not good, it is not suited for the players at the moment. Our sport is not going forward, so you have to change something about it.”
Larry Stefanki, Andy Roddick’s coach, said such a concept is ‘what tennis needs’. The only people who seem less than keen are Lleyton Hewitt and the ITF, damning its ‘timely branding‘ with faint praise (and noting they have a five-year contract with the ATP guaranteeing dates and ranking points).
The obvious analogy is with Twenty20 cricket – already elaborated by Neil Harman – and when you look at it that way, the idea does have some things to recommend it, making nation-on-nation competitive tennis more focused and accessible to the casual viewer. You can’t be bored during Twenty20, no matter how little you know or indeed care about cricket, and it sounds like you wouldn’t even have time to catch your breath during this event.
On the other hand, I’m suspicious of any plan to change the sport which has at its heart a cynical attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Not to mention that one of the great things about Davis Cup is that it routinely brings top-level tennis to places that would never normally get it – and frequently produces the sort of one-on-one five-set marathon contests of courage and will that this format would preclude.
What do you guys think?