The ATP’s “World Team Cup” is a go

WIMBLEDON – Two charter members of tennis’s alphabet soup, the  ATP and ITF, continue to compete and not collaborate.

After the ATP held its board meetings in London this week, it announced Sunday that it had approved the proposed “ATP World Team Cup”.

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The event will kick off in 2020, “in partnership with Tennis Australia”. The ATP’s statement also adds that “the agreement is subject to contract with Tennis Australia.”

“We’re delighted to have reached this outcome which will change the landscape of the ATP World Tour. This event will enable us to kick off our season with a major team event, with minimal impact on existing player schedules at the start of the year, ATP Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode said in the statement.

“We believe this outcome will deliver long-term sustainability not only financially but also from a player health perspective, which is critical. This event has huge potential and we now look forward to working together with Tennis Australia in bringing our vision to fruition.”

Just two months ago, Kermode said that having the “new” Davis Cup at the end of the season, and the World Team Cup at the start of the next – only about six weeks apart – would be “insane.”

It seems the ATP has decided not to stop the insanity.

First incarnation died in 2012

World Team
Dusseldorf was the site of the old World Team Cup, held on clay in May. This new incarnation is significantly more ambitious. (Wikipedia photo)

There had been a “World Team Cup” event before in the ATP’s history.

From 1978 to 2012, it was held on clay in Düsseldorf, Germany before the French Open.

At various times, it was called the “Ambre Solaire Nations Cup”, the “Ambre Solaire World Team Cup”, the “Peugeot World Team Cup” and at the end, the “Arag World Team Cup” and the “Power Horse World Team Cup” before it fizzled.

It was an exhibition event. And without ranking points and with the proximity to Roland Garros, it had its time.

ITF: Opportunity missed

Here’s the statement from the ITF, which landed at 10:28 p.m. London time Sunday.

It reiterates that it still plans to go ahead with the “new” Davis Cup event next year and contains a lot of bla, bla bla.

“Today’s news that the ATP Board has decided to proceed with the World Team Cup does not change the commitment of the ITF to proceed with a new Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Finals event in 2019. We do feel that this was an opportunity missed by the ATP to work together with the ITF in a beneficial and positive way for the whole of tennis.

“Our plan is transformative. It includes format changes to Davis Cup that were requested by the ATP Player Council in 2016 and it will create a world class finale to the tennis season. The new 18 team Finals event, will result in unprecedented levels of new investment into grassroots tennis world wide as well as record levels of prize money for all competing players.

“The continued success of Davis Cup is critical for our sport because the ITF is the only body reinvesting globally into the future development of tennis. It is the ITF, alongside our 210 member nations that develops the pipeline of talent that competes on the men’s and women’s professional tours and that work relies on the investment created by Davis Cup.

“Our commitment to providing new opportunities and new funding for nations and players all over the world and to develop tennis for future generations is as strong as ever. We look forward with confidence to the AGM in August 2018, where ITF member nations have the opportunity to vote for the Davis Cup reform’s final approval.”

To the highest bidder

The history of the event, in the nine months since it was announced that there were plans to bring back the World Cup last September, has already been complicated.

World Team
Sydney also is a joint event, with a stronger women’s field than men’s field. What is its future?

The initial group to back the idea was backed by soccer superstar Gerard Piqué.

By March, it seemed the ITF and ATP were actually – gasp! – working together to figure out how a World Team Cup and the proposed revamped Davis Cup could co-exist.

And Piqué’s group had gone from the proposed ATP Tour event to … offering a crazy amount of money to back the new Davis Cup event.

Meanwhile, the ITF’s Davis Cup reimagination plan must get the votes at its annual general meeting in Florida in August. And since the original plan, which appeared to favour a location in Asia, was announced, the ITF and Piqué’s group seem to have backed down and are discussing various venues in Europe.

But … what about the women?

The Brisbane women’s field is very strong. What’s going to happen to them as the World Team Cup becomes the major focus?

The prime attraction on the players’ side may well be that the ATP’s event will offer ranking points.

The basic structure of it calls for 24 nations, and $15 million in prize money.

And, despite the ATP’s statement that the plan is subject to contract with Tennis Australia, that country’s governing body has already indicated it is fully on board with the proposal.

Among the host cities for the event could be Adelaide (which once had an Australian Open tuneup event, but is now the site of an exhibition), Sydney, Brisbane and perhaps even Perth.

Perth is currently the host of the mixed ITF exhibition, the popular Hopman Cup.

But here’s the thing …

In addition to the women’s participation in the Hopman Cup, the WTA also takes part in the events in Sydney and Brisbane, which are joint ATP/WTA Tour events.

World Team
The Hopman Cup exhibition is run by the ITF. And it’s clear the ATP has no problem trying to step on the ITF’s toes.

Through this entire, protracted dance between the ATP and the ITF, has there even been a moment’s discussion of how this ambitious plan will affect the WTA Tour and its Australian summer swing?

For that matter, has the WTA Tour even issued any kind of statement or press release regarding the plans, and how women’s tennis will be affected?

They will be the ones most affected by this, without a doubt. And they seem to be the biggest afterthought in this whole affair, as the boys at the ATP and the ITF fight for supremacy.

The only peep on this front came back in January, when the Brisbane tournament (which had a terrific women’s field), said it “hoped” to keep a WTA event there even with the arrival of the World Team Cup.

It would be standalone event that likely wouldn’t get nearly its share of attention or attendance.

There is nothing on the WTA Tour website tonight but fluffy features and Wimbledon previews, even if this is a significant issue for its tour going forward.

The next chapter is going to be interesting. And the response from the WTA will be a window into what kind of leadership the women’s association has at the moment.

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