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Davis Cup Finals 2019 Review: Spain's triumph clouds a disastrous debut for 'Pique Cup'

Andrew Hendrie in News 27 Nov 2019
A photo from Australia and Canada's Davis Cup quarter-final (PA Images)

Don’t let the spectacular tennis and raw emotions fool you: The new-look Davis Cup Finals was a complete mess and won’t be sustainable in its current format moving forward.

“The competition is an absolute success. The most important thing is that it has a soul … The players have reactions that they don’t even have in the Grand Slams.”

This was Gerard Pique speaking after his native Spain emerged triumphant over the weekend, with the hosts defeating Canada in the final.

Of course Pique thinks it was a success. What else can he say? He’s public enemy No. 1 as far as tennis purists go. And with Rafael Nadal leading Spain to the title in Madrid, it was always going to look good.

But, in reality, it was an unmitigated disaster.

  • Empty stadiums for basically every country but the hosts
  • Ties finishing in the early hours of the morning, including 4.00am
  • Players and teams giving walkovers because the ridiculous group format allowed them to
  • Basic technological meltdowns on the website and app
  • Broadcasting rights

Not to mention the fact we barely had any time to digest and savour the ties - as soon as one finished, another began. It was far too rushed and congested.

The event was all over the place, but that’s what happens when you have a football player with too much money waltz into a sport he knows nothing about with a mysterious investment company and attempts to overhaul a competition that has been flourishing for 119 years.

Pique mentioned that players had reactions that we don’t even see in Grand Slams. He’s right. But we also watched players compete with the same unbridled passion that was on display in Madrid over the last 119 years in traditional Davis Cup.

A half-empty stadium ahead of France vs Serbia (PA Images)
In short, we witnessed nothing out of the ordinary.

Remember the 2017 Davis Cup final in Lille between France and Belgium?

A total of 75,000 fans were in attendance across the three days (the third highest Davis Cup final figures in history). This was around the time Pique and Kosmos were building up their takeover proposition, citing the need for immediate change because fans supposedly didn’t care and top players weren’t competing.

Fifteen top 20 players represented their country in Davis Cup throughout 2017.

Only 11 top 20 players featured in the 2019 Davis Cup Finals in Madrid - and just 130,000 spectators turned up across seven days and 25 sessions.

Over 530,000 fans bought tickets to Davis Cup ties across the world in 2017. You do the math.

This was an actual quote from ITF President David Haggerty in 2017.

“We have witnessed another magnificent Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Final to round off another memorable year for our flagship men’s team event. It is heartening to see the impact that the competition continues to have on players and fans alike, as well as the increased global reach resulting from our broadcast and digital strategies.”

The following year, Haggerty starts declaring that change is essential because fans and top players were losing interest, in addition to broadcast and sponsorship investment falling (BNP Paribas were locked in until 2021, extensions with Rolex and Adecco were in place, and 47 different networks broadcast the Davis Cup final in 2017, including a record 167 territories).

Gerard Pique (PA Images)
Davis Cup’s social media audience also grew to over 1 million users by the end of 2017.

It’s obvious there was no need for change, but unfortunately we can’t dwell on the past and must look ahead to the future. And trust me, it won’t be pretty.

Pique got lucky in many aspects this year. Imagine if it was Australia vs USA - two of the Davis Cup’s biggest traditional powerhouses - playing in the final in front of a half-empty stadium with only 100 die-hard supporters who made the enormous effort to fork out the money to travel across the world?

Davis Cup should never be played at a neutral venue.

Secondly, players still have to represent their countries in Davis Cup in order to be eligible for the Olympics. In order to be eligible for direct entry into the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, all players are required to have been part of a nominated team in 2019 or 2020. How’s that for blackmail…

Again, trust me when I say that’s the primary incentive for players at the end of a long season, especially when the ATP Cup is coming up in just six weeks time. Don’t get me started on that too…

Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev already decided that going on an exhibition tour in South America was more important than playing in Madrid this year. Daniil Medvedev couldn’t be bothered after his extraordinary efforts throughout 2019. The number of players skipping Davis Cup in the future is only going to increase.

But the damage has been done and we now must brace ourselves for what’s to come. Novak Djokovic is already calling for it to be moved to a different spot on the calendar after one year. He also wants the competition to merge with the ATP Cup. The ATP Cup hasn’t even been played yet.

The entire situation is completely ridiculous and entirely unnecessary #ChangeItBack

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Davis Cup Finals 2019 Review: Spain's triumph clouds a disastrous debut for 'Pique Cup'

Don’t let the spectacular tennis and raw emotions fool you: The new-look Davis Cup Finals was a complete mess and won’t be sustainable in its current format moving forward.

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