Davis Cup to undergo major changes, best of three sets and two days

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ITF has proposed Davis Cup matches will be played as best-of-three-sets rubbers as opposed to best- of-five according to a report in the Indian Express. There is also a proposal to hold the Davis Cup final in a neutral venue, and the event could also be scheduled biennially.

Interestingly , the ATP Player Council has expressed support for the proposed changes, according to ITF president David Haggerty.

What are the proposed changes?
Under the proposed changes, which could come into effect in 2018, Davis Cup matches will be played over three sets rather than five. The board has also proposed to reduce the ties from three days to two, pending consultation with sponsors and broadcasters. Under the current format, two singles matches are played on a Friday, a doubles match on a Saturday and two more singles matches on a Sunday.

Is there a need for change?
The arguments behind the proposed change are “to increase top player participation and enhance the experience for the fans, the spectators and the broadcasters”. However, the fact that the big names don’t have time for Davis Cup is something of a myth. Last year, Juan Martin del Potro led Argentina to its first title, while Andy Murray did the same for Great Britain the previous year. In 2014, Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka won the title for Switzerland for the first time. In 2010, Novak Djokovic led Serbia to the title and got the team to the 2012 final, while Rafael Nadal has been part of five championship teams with Spain.

While Haggerty has said that the format could be retained for the final, the move would effectively make Grand Slams the bastion for long-form tennis. Also, in the two-day format, slotting the doubles rubber could be a major headache.

Weather conditions nullified?
A switch to three-setters will also rob countries like India of any home advantage. The Indian team has time and again relied on gruelling five-setters in tough conditions to eke out big wins by draining out the opponents. Shorter matches would relatively be a breeze for most, effectively ruling out moments like India’s win over Australia in 1974 or Leander Paes’ five-set triumph over then world No.7 Goran Ivanisevic in the Croatia tie in 1995.

Where does Laver Cup fit in?
Also bewildering is the fact that the changes in Davis Cup could be approved in what is set to be the inaugural year for the Laver Cup. Tennis’ version of golf’s Ryder Cup, the three-day event will pit a squad of European men’s players against a group from the rest of the world, with former rivals Bjorn Borg of Sweden (Europe) and John McEnroe of the US (World team) to serve as captains for the first three years. An annual Laver Cup event could be detrimental to Davis Cup’s popularity.

Interestingly, Davis Cup remains more popular in Australia and some European and South American countries than in the United States, which has not won the title since 2007. That could also be the factor in the ITF, led by American Haggerty, trying to revamp the competition. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, along with then USA captain McEnroe, had led a similar crusade in 2000, claiming that Davis Cup “needs to change. For everybody’s sake.”