Anand Amritraj: ‘World Cup of tennis in one week is horrible idea’

The ITF Board of Directors, unanimously, endorsed the proposal to create a season-ending World Cup of Tennis finals, featuring 18 nations.

Anand Amritraj said that Davis Cup is bigger than players and should not be diluted. (File Photo)   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The proposed World Cup of tennis, in one week, is a “horrible idea” since it will take away the charm of home and away ties, which allows countries like India to host players, such as Rafael Nadal, contends former India captain Anand Amritraj.

The ITF Board of Directors, unanimously, endorsed the proposal to create a season-ending World Cup of Tennis finals, featuring 18 nations. The matches will be played over a week, at a single venue, in the traditional week of Davis Cup final, in November. The idea will be put to vote at the ITF AGM, in August, in Orlando and needs a two-third majority to become a reality.

The revamp idea has come after the ITF struck a deal with investment group Kosmos, founded and run by Spanish international and FC Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique. It is expected to generate revenue to the tune of $3 billion, in a 25-year period.

“The World Cup of Tennis, in the proposed one week format, is a horrible idea. If this is being floated by ITF President Dave Haggerty to keep the top players happy, as well as for some financial gain, that’s even worse,” Amritraj said.

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The Finals will feature a round-robin format, followed by a quarterfinal knockout stage. Each tie will consist of two singles and one doubles, over best-of-three sets. The 16 World Group nations will automatically qualify for the Finals, and a further two countries will be selected.

The top players have been complaining of crammed schedule and have skipped ties for their respective nations, and the proposed format is expected to bring them to the prestigious tournament.

Former World No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt has criticised the idea by saying that the ITF is trying to “kill off” home and away ties, five-set tennis and the “unbelievable atmosphere”, the event generates.

However, according to ITF president Haggerty, top players, such as Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, have supported its idea.

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Anand, who was part of the Indian Davis Cup team, which reached the final in 1974, said that the tournament is bigger than players and should not be diluted.

“The Davis Cup, and tennis, in general, is much bigger than a few legends, which, like the greats before them, will soon be gone. To change a 118-year-old format, so drastically, is such a bad move.”

“The whole charm of the Davis Cup is the home and away matches. In an away tie, you had to contend with adverse conditions, such as extreme cold or searing heat, noisy, and sometimes hostile crowds, bands playing, and 5 set matches, over 3 days. You had to fight hard and keep your cool, and somehow try to find a way to win.”

“I did it for 20 years, sometimes under terrible conditions. So, I do know what it takes. In home ties, the opposing team sends their best players, to make sure of a win.”

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“That’s why, over the years, the Indian public has been able to see top players like Goran Ivanisevic and John Alexander, and more recently, (Rafael) Nadal and (David) Ferrer. This would certainly not happen if the Davis Cup was played over 1 week, in some far away city,” Amritraj said.

The 66-year-old, who along with his brother Vijay, reached the Wimbledon semifinals, said that the one-week format has been tried in the past, in Germany, but it should not be implemented in Davis Cup.

So, what are the alternatives to keep the tournament, established in 1900, relevant? “Let’s go back to the 1970s when the world was divided into 4 zones, the Asian Zone, the American Zone and European Zones A and B. All countries would play in their respective zones, with the 4 winners playing in the semifinal, followed by the final. That way, the players would not have to travel far, each playing in their own continent, with the top stars possibly coming out only for the semis and final.”

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“They would only have to give up 2 weekends for Davis Cup, in their busy calendar. This format worked well for 74 years and was then changed, partly due to the fact that only the 4 Grand Slam nations had won the Davis Cup.”

“Since then, at least 8 other countries, mostly European ones, have taken home the coveted trophy. In my proposal, the home and away ties would be preserved and all nations, big and small, would be part of one competition,” Amritraj said.

Haggerty, who was recently in Bangkok to attend the SportsAccord summit, said that the idea was a “game changer”, because “with the USD 22 million a year, which goes back to the nations, it’s really able to fund the development of tennis”.