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Pique on critics of his new-look Davis Cup: 'We have to prove that they are wrong'

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 15 Feb 2019
  • Barcelona footballer Pique defends new-look Davis Cup against critics: 'We have to prove that they are wrong'
  • President of Kosmos investment group admits players will be 'very tired' by November finals: 'We pray they will be fit'
  • Pique has been criticized for meddling in tennis but insists it's 'not about' him
Gerard Pique speaks at the draw ceremony for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Gerard Pique has responded to critics of his new-look Davis Cup: 'We have to prove them wrong.'

Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique was speaking ahead of the draw ceremony for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, which will see the meat of what was a year-long, global competition built around a system of home-and-away ties condensed into a week-long tournament held at a neutral venue at the tail end of the tennis season in late November.

Pique is president of the investment group Kosmos who have pledged a £2.25 billion investment in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) over the next 25 years. This cash is the key ingredient underpinning the radical revamp of the Davis Cup, a tournament which is being played for the 119th time in 2019. 

The new-look Davis Cup has been welcomed in some quarters and lambasted in others after it was narrowly voted through by the ITF board last year, with Pique's presence seen as a significant factor in getting it approved.

Pique and ITF President David Haggerty were the key figures at the draw ceremony for November's Davis Cup Finals, which saw the 18 competing nations drawn into six groups of three - some potentially loaded with top talent, like Group B which holds defending champions Croatia, Spain and Russia; others where it is thin on the ground, like Group E, which holds Great Britain, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands.

With Pique so foregrounded by those pushing for the change, it's understandable that the footballer has been the target of ire from some of the revamped competition's critics, like Australia's Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt. 

Alexander Zverev joined Germany's team to help them qualify for the Davis Cup Finals, but insists he won't play (ARNE DEDERT/AFP/Getty Images)
'We're getting run by a Spanish football player. That's like me coming out and making changes to the Champions League,' Hewitt said. 'It's ridiculous. He knows nothing about tennis.'

Roger Federer, irked that the new Davis Cup is eyeing a September calendar slot currently occupied by his lucrative pet project the Laver Cup, said during last year's US Open that it was a 'bit odd to see a footballer arrive and meddle in the tennis business' and warned that 'the Davis Cup should not become the Pique Cup'.

'I think people who use this name, it is because they didn't understand the change of the competition and why we are doing this. I think we have to prove that they are wrong,' Pique told BBC Sport in Madrid.

'Obviously I will not be the one organizing the competition and we will not be changing any laws of tennis. What we are trying to do is helping the ITF create a much better event.'

Given how much Pique is using his personal star power to publicize and promote the event, it's reasonable that there are those who are bitterly calling it the 'Pique Cup'. 

'I hate it, because it's not about me and I don't want my name on the competition,' Pique told the Daily Mail. 'Davis Cup history is so big. I hope we can change this opinion. After a few years I hope they go back and say: "We were wrong, Davis Cup is more alive than ever."

'I respect the opinion of Lleyton, he was a great player. What I can say is that while I'm the President of Kosmos we are full of people who know tennis, people like Albert Costa, who has won a Grand Slam. I can understand that when a footballer comes in the tennis world it can seem a little bit awkward or strange, but at the end of the day I'm not going to be changing the rules of tennis.'

The new competition, which sees ties reduced from five rubbers to three and matches from best of five sets to best of three, faces a major test: Participation of the top players. This is what has been seen as the primary problem with the Davis Cup, which the new format has been created to address, by reducing the workload demanded of those players who want to try to win the competition (four weekends throughout the year). 

ITF president David Haggerty and Gerard Pique with the Davis Cup trophy and the captains of (L-R) Colombia, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Kazakhstan, France and Russia (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) 
But the problem is the date for the Davis Cup Finals - late November, after the Nitto ATP Finals, when the vast majority of the ATP Tour's players are used to being on holiday, taking advantage of tennis's brief off-season. While the money on offer is surely going to mean that plenty of players show up, will the top stars be willing to extend their seasons? Rafael Nadal has said he intends to play, but often struggles to make it to the end of the season intact anyway. Alexander Zverev, the highest-ranked player among the younger generation, has definitively said he won't play. In the wake of hip resurfacing surgery, Andy Murray seems unlikely to be fit to play for Great Britain. Switzerland did not qualify (although the fact that Federer was clearly not enamoured of the changes surely contributed to Switzerland not being granted a wildcard) so there will be no Federer or Stan Wawrinka. And the world's no. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, seems to be on the fence, although he has been involved in promoting the ATP Tour's own new international competition, the ATP Cup, which will be played in the first two weeks of January - barely six weeks after the Davis Cup Finals, a ridiculous situation.

'I'm positive about it. It will be very difficult to convince everyone the first year, but our idea is that this is a long way to go,' Pique said.

'We understand that we are new in this tennis world, and we want to respect everyone and how the calendar is structured right now. We don't want to have any conflict whatsoever with any other part of tennis. We are proud that we are in November. We know that the players will be very tired. We pray that they will be fit.'

More worrying than the competition revamp itself is the strong suggestion that the tournament could move to Indian Wells, home of the BNP Paribas Open, which is basically the private resort town of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. Ellison is a major investor in Kosmos and the Davis Cup Finals could be played in the Californian desert as early as 2021. It's very difficult to imagine the passionate, partisan atmosphere which is such an integral part of the appeal of the Davis Cup surviving in such surroundings. 

'We are very confident. We are talking about a big change to a competition with 118 years of history. This is a 25-year thing. We can change people's opinions,' Pique told the Daily Mail.

'I am sure that the players who play the first year will play the second year and maybe convince others to. Our idea is to gain credibility not just among the players but the fans. We want the best players to come but this will come naturally when they see how big this competition is going to be again.'

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Pique on critics of his new-look Davis Cup: 'We have to prove that they are wrong'

Speaking at the draw for the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, lead investor Gerard Pique vowed to win over players critical of the revamped competition: 'After a few years I hope they go back and say "We were wrong, Davis Cup is more alive than ever"'

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