Battle lines drawn as crunch Davis Cup vote looms

Delegates at the International Tennis Federation's annual meeting in Orlando will decide whether proposals pushed by federation chief David Haggerty. (Davis Cup Reuters file image)

The most radical overhaul in the 118-year history of the Davis Cup could be given the green light on Thursday as the tennis world gathers in Florida to vote on sweeping reforms which have divided the sport.

Delegates at the International Tennis Federation's annual meeting in Orlando will decide whether proposals pushed by federation chief David Haggerty are to be given the go-ahead.

Haggerty's proposals will see the Davis Cup's sprawling existing format, stretched across the calendar year and played in all corners of the globe, condensed into a season-ending event played at a single, neutral venue.

Haggerty told AFP in a recent interview the revamped tournament would enable the ITF and member federations to boost tennis's global development for years to come.

The reforms have the backing of a $3 billion partnership from the Kosmos investment group, founded by Barcelona football star Gerard Pique, which in turn is supported by Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani.

"The reforms will allow the ITF and the federations to do what no other body does, which is to develop the future generation of players," Haggerty told AFP.

The ITF maintains the new-look Davis Cup would boost the profile of the tournament, which was first held in 1900 when the United States defeated Britain at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston, Massachusetts.

Federation chiefs say the revamped competition would effectively create a fifth Grand Slam event, increase prize money and allow the Davis Cup to attract top players by freeing up space on the calendar.

Yet the changes have appalled some of the greatest names ever to play the sport. On Saturday, Australian Davis Cup captains and players including Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Lleyton Hewitt were united in condemning the proposed overhaul.

'Death of Davis Cup'

Newcombe, a five-time champion as a player, described the overhaul as "a recipe for the death of the Davis Cup as we know it."

"The Davis Cup is 118 years old and was the forerunner that made tennis into an international sport," Newcombe said.

"It is too important for tennis to just let it become another event on the calendar that has no real meaning." Hewitt disparaged the changes as little more than a "money grab" which ignored the tournament's history.

The Australian misgivings mirrored comments from other regions.

France legend Yannick Noah, who captained the country to the Davis Cup in 2017, said the changes represented the death knell for the tournament.

"The end of the Davis Cup," Noah wrote earlier this year on Twitter. "How sad. They sold the soul of a historic event. Sorry, Mister Davis." However, the overhaul has won support from Serbian star Novak Djokovic.

The 13-time Grand Slam winner believes a change in format is long overdue. "I think that format needs to be changed. And I'm all in favour of that," Djokovic said in Toronto this week.

"You play one year, and then the next year you don't play. It's just the scheduling of this kind of format so far has been pretty bad."

The Davis Cup reforms require two-thirds majority support from ITF delegates in Orlando on Thursday.

If successful, the new format would be launched in November of 2019, with Europe guaranteed to host the first two editions of the new-look event.

One complication, however, could well be the introduction of a revamped World Team Cup due to take place in Australia in the first week of 2020.

The tournament, which has the backing of the ATP and Tennis Australia, will feature 24 teams and offer prize money and rankings points.

ATP executive chairman Chris Kermode has acknowledged the problems of staging the new event just six weeks after the proposed Davis Cup, describing the scheduling as "insane."

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Battle lines drawn as crunch Davis Cup vote looms

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