Let the five sets remain!

The Davis Cup’s attraction is patriotism and tradition. To preserve both, five-set matches are a must!

The Argentina team with the Davis Cup last year.   -  AP

The Davis Cup started in the year 1900 as a competition between the USA and Great Britain. Four Harvard University tennis players conceived of a tennis challenge. One of them named Dwight Davis invested $1000 US of his own funds for a Trophy. He was immortalised when the tournament was named after him as the Davis Cup.

Belgium, France, Austria and Australasia (combined team of Australia and New Zealand) joined a few years later. Slowly more and more countries joined and currently as many as 135 nations participate in the Davis Cup.

The format of the Davis Cup is five matches played over three days. On days one and three, two singles are played, while on the second day a doubles match is held. It is a year long event with 16 teams competing in the World Group to decide the year end Champion. Thus a World Group Team has to win 4 matches/rounds to be crowned Davis Cup Champion. The others have to fight it out to make it to the World Group.

Currently, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is planning to reduce Davis Cup matches from the best of five-setters to the best of three-setters. If the proposal is ratified by two-thirds of the full membership of the ITF at its annual conference in Ho Chi Minh city in August 2017, then the 2018 Davis Cup will see the best of three-set matches. The ITF has also thought of making it a two-day event.

Why is this step being taken? The reasons cited are (i) to increase top player participation. (ii) to increase spectator interest and address the shorter attention spans of audiences, and (iii) to retain TV audience.

In my opinion, it is a bad idea.

Novak Djokovic being the only top 10 player to feature in this year’s first round, is cited as an example of decreasing top player participation. This is faulty thinking. Why? Let us see how.

Have we so soon forgotten the 2015 Davis Cup when Andy Murray preferred to play the Davis Cup Final on slow clay at Ghent, Belgium even though he had played the ATP World Tour Finals on hard courts just a week before? In fact, Murray had clearly stated that he would prefer to train for the Davis Cup on clay, but the ITF stand was that that the Tour Finals was a mandatory event.

Have we forgotten the stellar contributions of Rafa Nadal and Djokovic to the Davis Cup? Have we also forgotten Federer’s joy in winning the Davis Cup in 2014 with Wawrinka as his team-mate? Therefore, the argument that top players don’t prefer to play in the Davis Cup is clearly not correct. In fact, Juan Martin del Potro used the Davis Cup as one of the means to claw his way back into top-flight tennis.

It is also fallacious to assume that spectator interest will increase once five-setters are reduced to three. Interest in the Davis Cup is because of tradition and because countries aim at being the best tennis playing nation of the world and people want to see their country doing well. It has nothing to do with the number of sets. Reducing the sets to three will dilute and devalue the importance of the event.

Players of the present era are used to playing three-setters only, as other than the Grand Slam singles, all matches are the best of three sets now.

Therefore let the Davis Cup’s attraction of patriotism and tradition continue. For both, continuing with five-set matches is a must!