What is the latest Davis Cup format?

When the first ever Davis Cup was held in 1900, only two teams participated in it- USA and British Isles. Each team had four members and the Americans won the first ever Davis Cup. Back then, it was more popularly known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge. Dwight Davis, a member of the first ever American Davis Cup team took out $1000 from his own pocket to make a silverware as a reward to the winning team of the first ever winner of the now popular Davis Cup.

As time passed, the tournament reached to different continents and ultimately rose in stature to be a global team tennis. Such was its impact, that the event was considered to be tennis’ biggest stage outside the four grand slams. Popularly known as the World Cup of tennis, the Davis Cup was often cited as an opportunity by the players to win it and bring pride and glory to their respective nations.

118 years have gone by and the Davis Cup has seen memorable, joyous and emotional moments that would close the gap between a player’s love for the sport and his affection towards his nation. However, on 16th August 2018, the Davis Cup, owned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) went through a process which would rob the tournament from its heart and brain, leaving only a skeleton behind. 
For many years, Davis Cup’s format came into question and players and pundits suggested various proposals to upgrade the Davis Cup’s format. Numerous plans were discussed but none of them were accepted and the Davis Cup would stick to its usual format of sixteen teams battling over the course of four months in a home-and-away format.

Ever since the establishment of the ATP World Tour in 1990 and its rebranding in 2009, the tennis calendar has grown out to be a hectic one for the players, often complaining about the scheduling. This eventually kept the top ranked players away from participating in the Davis Cup to recover for the remainder of the season. A notable statistic proving this point is that France, who won the Davis Cup last year, won it without facing a Top 40 singles player in the four rounds of the competition. The ITF saw this as a problem as the Davis Cup was unable to generate the revenue that it once did. David Haggerty, the President of the ITF made a major decision to change the morphology of the Davis Cup. The proposal got financial support from Kosmos, a European Investment Group owned by Gerard Pique and Oracle founder Larry Ellison (who is desperate to organize the Davis Cup finals at Indian Wells in 2021). Kosmos (which has the support of Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani) committed to a $3 billion investment over 25 years with the ITF and drew out major changes to the Davis Cup format.

“This is the beginning of a new stage that guarantees the pre-eminent and legitimate place that the Davis Cup should have as a competition for national teams while adapting to the demands of the professional sport at the highest level.” – Gerard Pique

Representatives of 147 nations were summoned at Orlando, where the vote was carried out on whether or not to overhaul the Davis Cup via radical changes. Haggerty & Pique needed 67% of the votes in order to reform the World Cup of tennis. Except the Australian Open, all the other three grand slams were in favour of the changes. However, disagreements came from various nations like Australia, Britain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia. Great Britain had a split within, as the Lawn Tennis Association voted against the changes but the All England Club (host of Wimbledon) voted in favour of the changes. Towards the caudal aspect of the vote, Belgium, Netherlands and Spain agreed to the measures which eventually boosted the vote count for the Davis Cup reforms beyond 67%.

“I am delighted that the nations have voted to secure the long-term status of Davis Cup. Our mission is to ensure that this historic decision will benefit the next generation of players for decades to come.” – David Haggerty

When it was announced that 71% of the nations had voted for the changes, tennis players knew that the change in the Davis Cup was inevitable and ultimately a footballer had paved his way into the governing associations of tennis to break the traditions of the Davis Cup.

The new Davis Cup will started in 2019, whose format is as follows:

  • 24 teams will participate in February and face each other in the home-and-away tie format, meaning that teams will take turns in hosting if they have met before(a.k.a alternating host rule). These teams comprise of 12 teams that are placed from 5th-16th in previous year’s finals and 12 teams that are winners of Group I which are further subdivided as 6 teams from Euro/Africa, 3 from Asia/Oceania and 3 from Americas. 
  • The teams which lose in the fifth week of February are relegated to zonal groups (Group I-IV). Later, the Group I teams will host in September in a round robin format whereas Groups II-IV can choose to host either in April or September.
  • The 12 winning teams from the fifth week of February get qualified for the finals in November. They will be joined by the four semi-finalists from the previous year and two wild card teams bringing the total to 18 teams that will contest the final. 
  • In the final week, these 18 teams will be divided into three groups of six teams that will play in the round robin format. The top two teams of each group and the next two most successful teams (who have won more games and sets) will comprise the 8 teams for the quarterfinals which will be knock out rounds. 
  • The teams will play two singles and one doubles match across two days and the matches will be best of three tiebreaker sets and not the conventional best of five sets. (Zonal rounds might retain the original format of four singles and one doubles match but they will still be restricted to the best of three sets tiebreaker rule).
  •  The finals will be played in a pre-determined single venue that will host the finals in  November. For 2019, Madrid or Lille are the front-runners).

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