Davis Cup to trial best-of-three in ’18

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The effects of the International Tennis Federation’s Davis Cup power play at its last annual general meeting will be felt immediately.

The historic team competition is going ahead with trials for a two-day format, and best-of-three-set matches at the Zone Group level in 2018.

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The first round is to be played in early February.

The members voted against the significant, and much-discussed, format change at the organization’s annual general meetings in Vietnam in August.

But in the wake of that clearly unexpected setback, the ITF Board of directors quickly drafted an amendment, which did pass. It “was given the authority to decide on Davis Cup and Fed Cup trials in a vote by member nations.”

The format change will affect all Zone I and II zone group ties. 

Doubles rubber to remain live

trial
Haggerty and his board didn’t get the votes they expected on the Davis Cup format changes at the August AGM. So they took it into their own hands – with a vote of approval from the member nations, of course. The vast majority of which will never see the World Group. (Photo: Paul Zimmer, ITF)

It won’t be a carbon copy of the Fed Cup format, which has the reverse singles – and then the deciding doubles if necessary – on the second day.

Rather, after two singles matches are played in Day 1. Day 2 will begin with the doubles, followed by the two reverse singles matches.

The ITF’s press release states that this was done to ensure that “all doubles matches remain live.”

That’s a big shift, and obviously it puts teams that have their singles players also playing doubles at a disadvantage.

To counter that, the ITF also unilaterally approved a trial change to the size of the World Group I and II Davis Cup squads.

The maximum number of players will now be five, not four.

That will “give nations greater flexibility in team selection,” the ITF said. But it also takes away one of the fascinating dynamics in Davis Cup – how to best use the four-man roster selections.

The change also will give nations with more depth – and those with a specialist doubles team – a big advantage.

Fewer dead rubbers

Because of the two-day format, the ITF also unilaterally voted to make changes in the dead rubber policy.

If the fourth rubber (i.e. the first reverse singles match between the two No. 1 players on Day 2) is decisive, a dead rubber won’t be played regardless of the length – or lack thereof – of the first singles match.

That’s how it works for the final. But the rule for the rest of the ties currently is that the dead fifth rubber is to be played if the fourth and deciding rubber finishes in straight sets.

That’s more for the fans who have paid full ticket prices on the deciding day, who deserve more than three sets for their money. With the doubles also being played on the second day, that point is moot.

If the winning team team sweeps 3-0, a fourth (dead) rubber will be played, again ensuring the fans get two matches on the second day.

Relevant quotes

trial
Photo: TIA/David Kenas

Here’s are the press-release quotes from David Haggerty, the ITF president.

“We are as determined as ever to enhance our flagship team competitions for players, fans, host nations, broadcasters and sponsors. The nations voted to give the Board the flexibility to trial changes, and the board has acted quickly to make this happen in 2018.

“The Board felt it was appropriate to trial the two-day, best-of-three-set format at Zone Group level. Should the trial prove to be a success, we will be in a position to consider whether it should be applied for the World Group as well after 2018.”

“Our priority remains to attract the top players, and these trials address some of the challenges that these players face in an increasingly crowded tennis calendar. We are working to develop player-friendly formulas that give the competitions the profile and stature they deserve.”

And here’s a quote from longtime Aussie Davis Cup star and current ITF board member Mark Woodforde, who obviously is on board (pardon the pun)”.

trial
Woodforde, who played from 1988 to 2000, competed in 24 ties – 14 singles rubbers and 22 doubles rubbers in all. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“The ITF Board recognizes the importance of taking steps to enable Davis Cup to move forward while retaining its unique elements. The competition is steeped in history and we want to ensure that the next generation of players can continue to enjoy the thrill of representing their country in front of their own fans.”

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